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 our interview with Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl, the founding President of the Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce.
Could you please introduce yourself and your organisation?
My name is Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl, and I am the founding President of the Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce (NACC), which was established in late 2014. Prior to launching the NACC, I worked as a relationship manager for several business networks and wrote a thesis and several articles on networking and business communication. I also own a company called Dream Internship, which creates Work Integrated Learning (WIL) opportunities for students and connect interns and companies for internship placements on an international level. Born in Norway, I have now resided in Australia for almost 15 years.
What type of services can you offer to Norwegian companies looking for new business opportunities in Australia?
The Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce (NACC) offers a wide range of services for our members and sponsors, including:
– Networking opportunities and introductions to helpful connections
– Cultural and educational events
– A supportive community with local knowledge
– Business services such as accounting and legal support
– Informative market reports
– Branding and promotional activities
– Knowledge sharing opportunities
Due to NACC’s credibility and visibility, Norwegian companies often look to us for support in uncovering business opportunities in Australia. From here, we introduce our members to local operators, or operators who are based in the Asia Pacific region. Overall, NACC offers members support, knowledge and helpful insights into the market.
How is NACC funded? Are you subsidised by the Norwegian Government?
The chamber is not funded by the Norwegian Government.
However, we believe our that NACC is increasingly sparking interest and support from the Norwegian Government, especially since we partnered with the Norwegian Embassy in 2016.
When NACC launched in 2014, it was reliant upon a private investment, a local sponsor, and the volunteering efforts of founding Directors (Danielle Mathiesen, Sarah Chopping, Ulf Varding, Frank Mathisen and myself).
Today, the majority of the NACCs funding stems from membership contributions and event sponsorship, which has allowed for new growth (such as the ability to hire part-time employees within the chamber).
How many members do you have, within the different categories? How many Norwegian companies are operating in Australia?
There are approximately 70 Norwegian companies with a presence in Australia, most of which are located in Perth and in Sydney. After 3 years in operation, the NACC currently has 70 members, comprising of about 50 businesses and 20 individuals. NACC also has a Young Professionals Network, and we aspire to see this network reach a size of 20 members by the end of the year. The NACC has many business and individual members outside of the Norwegian community as we focus on an integrated Norwegian-Australian community with strong ties to other bilateral chambers.
What are the organisation’s main accomplishments since you took office?
I have been involved in the chamber since its establishment, and as such have seen the NACC reach many milestones.
One of the organisation’s major triumphs is its continual growth. In 2016, NACC doubled its membership number and launched the Young Professionals Board.
Due to its continued growth, NACC engaged regional directors and launched a presence in both Perth and Melbourne. Now, we have plans to expand to Brisbane and Adelaide.
Overall, NACC has achieved continual growth, and as such, we are planning to further that development with a national reach.
How do you perceive the Australasian region in general (regarding regulations, market trends and geography of business for Norway)?
With imports from Norway totalling A$882 million, and exports to Norway standing at A$293 million, I see the market as very lucrative and opportune.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has highlighted some of Australia’s leading exports to Norway. In 2016, some of the most prominent exports included specialised machinery, alcoholic beverages, electric power machinery, as well as aircraft and aviation parts.
“With imports from Norway totalling A$882
million, and exports to Norway standing at
A$293 million, I see the market as very
lucrative and opportune.”
On the counter side, major Australian imports included fish, specialised machinery, as well as measuring and analysing instruments. Such Norwegian technology, especially within the Oil & Gas and Shipping sectors, has the longest history in Norwegian-Australian trade relations.
Due to the similarities in National Education Curriculum, there are also opportunities for Norwegian companies to take lead in Australian Edu-tech innovation. There are also a number of Norwegian companies leading the way in infrastructure technology, including Maze Map and Q-Free, and household retail products such as Ekornes and FuelBox.
One of Norway’s most recent areas of focus in Australia includes marine biology and mine restoration. As such, our hope is that Norway will play an integral part in restoring the health of Australian’s Great Barrier Reef.
What about Norway’s business culture – are there any similarities to Australian one?
Norwegian and Australian business cultures are quite similar. They are both of a friendly, open and trusting nature. In general, Norwegians can be more direct when focusing on business, whereas the Australian business culture tends to be more relaxed.
I believe Norway’s business culture is leading the way in terms of gender equality, as women hold many high-powered careers with their average salary being much closer to that of males.
In which industries/sectors of Australia do you see opportunities for Norwegian companies?
In addition to the sectors I mentioned previously, I see huge opportunity for luxury retail products (Ekornes), health tech (Imatis), as well as shipping and oil & gas (Statoil, Kongsberg, Yara). When it comes to retailing in Australia, products with Nordic origin are recognised as of great quality
From your experience what are the typical steps that Norwegian companies undertake when expanding in Australia?
At large, I believe Norwegian companies carry out rigorous research and carefully strategise their expansion to Australia, which includes networking efforts. Pleasingly, many Norwegian companies become involved with the NACC quite early in this process, which demonstrates that NACC is delivering a valuable business service for such companies.
In your opinion, how can Norwegian companies overcome some of their main challenges when entering the Australian market?
I believe that Norwegian companies can transgress some of the primary challenges through developing an advanced understanding of the Australian market and its risks. From here, it’s down to developing a sound network and sourcing reliable partners to establish the business in Australia.
What do you think about the potential for a Free Trade Agreements between Norway and Australia?
In 2015, Europe and Australia agreed to start the process towards a high-quality Free Trade Agreement, with the negotiations set to continue throughout this year.
When we consider the extraordinary value of this bilateral trade relationship, the importance of a FTA becomes clear. Overall, the EU’s foreign direct investment in Australia totalled $157.6 in 2015-16, with the reverse totalling $111.8 billion.
In my opinion, the EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement will further this important trade relationship by removing any barriers and enhancing regulatory cooperation.
I believe the FTA negotiations show that the trade relationship between Europe and Australia will continue to strengthen and prosper.
In creating our Bilateral Trades Down Under Series, we would like to thank Sophia Demetriades Toftdahl for taking the time to provide such an insightful interview.