Polyglot Group has been doing business with international & multicultural companies based in more than 50 countries all around the world for over 20 years.


In celebration of these partnerships, we will be promoting bilateral trades by interviewing some of the key players. Keen to know more about the current challenges faced by the countries we are representing such as Latin America, Europe, Asia & the US, we are thrilled to share with you our interview with Natalie Cope, Chief Executive Officer of Australia China Business Council (ACBC).


Could you please introduce yourself and your organisation?

My name is Natalie Cope and I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Australia China Business Council (ACBC) in New South Wales. The ACBC is the premier business organisation in Australia dedicated to promoting and developing two-way trade, investment and economic cooperation with China.

The ACBC is a membership-based, NGO with a federal structure, characterised by a National Secretariat and eight branches across all States and Territories. Our key role and activity is to provide members, and those part of the broader Australia-China business community:

  • Critical information, insights and resources
  • Access to relevant networks and influencers
  • A platform for brand positioning, business development, profiling and influencing
  • Being an authoritative voice to government on behalf of business


Could you introduce yourself as the CEO of the ACBC?

My role as the Chief Executive Officer of the NSW state branch is to ensure that our members, and the broader ACBC member and business community are adequately informed and equipped to maximise their opportunity for trade, investment and economic co-operation in and with China.

With the leadership, support and guidance of the NSW President and Committee this means developing a program of events and initiatives as well as building a library of resources for members and the member community that aims helps them achieve their business objectives and outcomes with China.


What are the organisation’s main accomplishments since you took office?

Having been in the role less than a month, it may be a little early to talk to accomplishments. That said, we are working on some very important and substantive initiatives that we believe will be of great value and utility to our members and to the Australia-China dialogue more generally. These include:

  • “The Renminbi, from People’s money to a global trading reserve”. This is a collaborative project with the Commonwealth Bank, PwC and Austrade and is the first practical report providing an introduction to conducting cross-border trade and investment with China.
  • “The Long Boom: What China’s Rebalancing mean for Australia’s Future”. This is a collaborative report with Monash University, ShineWing Australia and the Australian Centre of Financial Services. Through economic modelling this report identifies where the opportunities are for Australian business as a result of China’s economic transition to a consumption based economy.

In collaboration with KPMG, King & Wood Mallesons, Alibaba Group Australia, China Unicom and PowerfulPoints, the ACBC NSW will deliver a major one day Food Agribusiness Summit that will bring together up to 300 attendees and will explore the latest developments in Australia China Food and Agribusiness with a specific focus on Ag-Tech and innovation, cross-border trade and e-commerce as well as Chinese investment into Australian agribusiness.


How many members do you have?

We have over 1,500 Chinese & Australian members nationally. These members cover all industry sectors and sizes.  In addition to our strong national membership base we have a substantial traditional & social media influence & exposure which includes an e-subscriber base of over 10,700 individuals and organisations.


How do you perceive the Australasian region in general regarding regulations, market trends, geography of business for China?

Australia has a strong regulatory framework for business, which is one of the key reasons that – not only Chinese companies— but also other foreign companies, look to invest in Australia. Australia’s strong rule of law and its regulatory framework provides investors with certainty, confidence, and transparency.

From the perspective of Chinese companies, the benefits of Australia include its fantastic financial and banking sector. Australia is a global leader in financial services. The ASX is the third-largest stock market in Asia, so companies looking to invest here can be confident.

The other benefits that Chinese companies can enjoy in Australia is the nation’s advantageous proximate location to China and Asia. Considering the marginal time-zone, this closeness does create an ease of doing business. In addition, Australia has a strong Chinese population. This offers culturally-capable talent, which is a significant asset both for Australia and for those looking to invest in Australia.

Despite these attractive attributes, a Chinese company entering the Australian market is likely to face difficulties in navigating the business and regulatory legal environment. For this reason, it is essential that they do engage local business councils, chambers and service providers to help.


“Australia’s strong rule of law and its regulatory framework provides investors with certainty, confidence, and transparency.”


What about China’s business culture— are there any similarities to the Australian one?

There are both similarities and differences; there’s no question about that. The best way to understand these differences is to first understand yourself.  Unless you familiarise yourself with your own business and cultural drivers and values, as well how these inform your cultural work preferences there is little utility in pointing out the differences.

It is also important to note that when we talk about “China” we must be careful not to generalise, and to reflect and ask the question of what China are we talking about. Old China? Modern China? What generation? From which province? In relation to which vertical or segment? Are they a private company or SOE? The country is so significant in size and scale it is important to recognise the diversity, as well as the pace at which things are changing. In every approach and consideration of China it should be approached with nuance and depth.


“China is so significant in size and scale it is important to recognise the diversity, as well as the pace at which things are changing.”


That being said, Confucian values and principles are still important in China. There remains a strong emphasis on education, age and authority. This dynamic in turn affects the power structures and thereby influences business activities such as decision making processes as well as norms surrounding influence and negotiation processes.

Another way to look at the differences is to consider the 12 dimensions of culture. In terms of these dimensions between Australia and China, the primary differences really play themselves out how we respond respectively across hierarchy, conflict, communication and time.

Despite these differences, Australia and China do share similarities in business cultures. In particular, both nations place a significant value upon personal networks and trust, while admittedly these values do tend to manifest in different ways.


In which industries/sectors of Australia do you see opportunities for Chinese companies?

I think at this point in time, property, construction and infrastructure remains an attractive industry sector for China.  The Tourism sector is another good destination for consideration. The Northern Australia development (Developing the North) branches from the Northern Territory across the top of Queensland, are also currently seeking investment across a broad range of sectors.


In your experience, what are the typical steps that Chinese companies undertake when expanding to Australia?

If a Chinese company is considering Australia as a destination for business – the first and best step is to reach out to the likes of the Australia China Business Council (and or other like and reputable industry bodies and agencies) who can then provide guidance on who to meet, as well as reputable service providers and other steps they should take and support they ought to seek out.

Seeking support from industry bodies and quality service providers, may seem expensive – but, securing the right advice from the start will absolutely enhance the likelihood of success. Recently, I spoke with a Chinese company who was surprised by the complexity and difficulty in complying with Australian HR and industrial relations procedure. In the first instance that company tried to manage on their own, and as a result breached Australian requirements, and it became very costly to mitigate.

Australia, just like China, can be challenging to navigate. To enhance the best chance for success, a new entrant to Australia should immediately seek out professional and credible support and advice.


What do you think about the ChAFTA (the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement)?

The ACBC is a major advocate and support of the ChAFTA; we have been involved in its negotiations since 2005.  In 2015, trade was shown to be valued at over $150 billion, and China accounts for 23% of Australia’s total trade with the world.

Given this context, ChAFTA is of great value to both countries.  For Australia, ChAFTA has offered the benefit of making Australian products far more competitive in the Chinese markets. Specifically, the ChAFTA has caused a reduction in tariffs for Australian exports across a range of industries, giving increased opportunities across the agricultural sector as well as the services sector.

ChAFTA has provided services (such as banking and legal services) the opportunity to operate at a capacity which was previously impossible. Moving forward, Australia has been granted “the most favoured nation provision” in the services sector. As a result, Australian service companies will enjoy the same benefits as any other nation who possess a Free Trade Agreement with China.


In creating our Bilateral Trades Down Under Series, we would like to thank Natalie Cope for taking the time to provide such an insightful interview. 


About the Author:

As Polyglot Group's Partnerships Manager, Alex dedicates his time to explore new business ideas and increase brand visibility. Particularly passionate about start-ups and scale-ups, Alex believes in the power of innovation and is always looking for ways to shine a light on those leading the way for change.