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While business leaders in mature economies are looking for international expansion opportunities in higher growth emerging economies, the same cannot be said of New Zealand businesses, according to the latest Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR). 
New Zealand sits second from bottom in the number of companies that currently have international operations at only 9%, two points ahead of Poland and well behind Australia’s 16%. The global average was 36%.
Simon Carey, partner, Grant Thornton New Zealand Ltd, said that the worrying aspect was that only 9% of those New Zealand companies surveyed were planning overseas growth.
“While these figures do highlight our geographic isolation, they also highlight our insular thinking and our continued reliance on traditional markets. Of the companies looking to expand their international markets, Western Europe (14%), United States of Canada (21%), Australia (50%) and remaining Asia (43%) were the most favoured. We are seeing very little growth into the emerging and exciting markets of Latin America, South America, Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe.
“It also highlights that the full benefits of bilateral trade agreements, such as with China, are not being exploited to full advantage by New Zealand businesses.
“In comparison, IBR results reveal that globally, 57% of those business leaders considering international expansion are looking at the five biggest emerging economies – China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico – compared with 38% looking at Western Europe and 33% at North America,” he said.
This interest in higher growth economies is particularly apparent amongst businesses in mature economies: 63% of Japanese businesses and 45% of those in the G7 are looking at opportunities in China; 59% of German businesses are looking at Russia and 57% of North American businesses are looking at Latin America.
“Surprisingly, New Zealand companies did not see any major hurdles for expansion, in fact, compared with the global average, the pathway for New Zealand companies looks easier.”
Amongst the seven major challenges New Zealand companies saw in global expansion, with the global average in brackets, were: Finding the right workers 36% (35%); currency fluctuations 32% (27%); legislation and regulations 31% (45%); logistics 31% (28%); access to finance 25% (20%); culture and linguistics 24% (31%); cash extraction 15% (21%).
“The stand out figure is probably around red tape where nearly half of overseas companies find this as a major challenge compared with only a third of New Zealand companies. Partly this could be put down to the fact that New Zealand companies tend to deal in the more traditional markets compared with the frontier markets overseas companies may be trying to open up. 
“Nevertheless, it does not seem that the barriers are that high. It has more to do with the intent to expand overseas that is holding New Zealand companies back,” he said.
The IBR also shows that international expansion is no longer a one-way street. Increasingly cash-rich businesses in emerging economies are looking for expansion opportunities in mature markets, whether through opening premises or buying distressed assets. Businesses in Turkey (59%), Russia (37%), India (33%) and China (27%) are looking at opportunities in Western Europe. And 33% of Latin American businesses, rising to 58% in Mexico, are looking at North America. 
“Reason might tell businesses not to invest in slow-growing mature economies. But instinct might suggest that acquiring a struggling company would provide access to strategic markets, workers or technologies.
“Further, developing economies such as China are reaching into mature economies to secure and protect raw material supply lines for their home economies.
“Investment from mature economy businesses offers peers in emerging economies significant productivity gains in the form of technology transfer and access to new skills and processes. These gains can rapidly move a business onto a higher growth plain and allow them to produce higher value-add products and services.”
To help investors understand which emerging economies offer the greatest potential for business investment, in 2008 Grant Thornton developed the Emerging Markets Opportunity Index. Updated for 2012, this third iteration sees China once again top the index, followed by India and Russia. Brazil has moved above Mexico into fourth place. The biggest movers include the ‘frontier economies’ of Indonesia (up two places), Chile (up two), Nigeria (up nine) and Peru (up five).  
Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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