By: Jeffery Schrale |ANZ Regional Executive Far North Queensland

On a recent trade mission to China it became immediately obvious to this writer, that for Cairns businesses, there is currently a wide-open window of opportunity to develop long-term supply agreements and build relationships with Chinese enterprises in agribusiness and food-value chain as well as in services, education, training and further capitalising on the opportunities being pioneered by our Region’s tourism industry.

The first thing you notice, upon hopping off your international flight into mainland China, is that everything is big. There is construction going on as far as the eye can see and any slow- down isn’t immediately obvious. On day one of our beef tour we drove for 3 hours and we were left with the impression that if China commits to doing something nothing will stand in their way. Roads go through mountains not around them and ravines are crossed not once, but multiple times by engineering marvels. It is easy to get lost in the infrastructure and noise and forget that there are people finding their way in a new landscape.

The pace of change is such that just a decade and a half ago many of the population lived a subsistence existence, far away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Now places like Chongqing house 32 million people adjusting to a new way of life. The strong sense of family and wanting to work for the greater good remains, but the culture is changing. Beef is appearing on high end menus, Gucci and Prada are worn as status symbols and fast food outlets, like MacDonald’s and KFC are common place. With the era of globalisation and travel comes Chinese wanting to experience new diets and western luxury at home. Wealth brings disposable income and choice and this is leading to both Agri and commercial opportunities for our customers here in Australia. Some of the more obvious opportunities are discussed below.

The three big opportunities for Australia were outlined by DFAT as: Tourism, Agriculture and Education. All three are actively growing sectors in China and represent an immediate opportunity for Cairns and Far North Queensland to capture market share.

In education, Australia has a distinct competitive advantage, with both our proximity to and our time zone with the Chinese Market. The UK remains the preferred destination for students, so marketing will be important in changing perceptions. Townsville has already taken significant steps, with JCU establishing a campus in Singapore and Cairns is well placed to capture a share of this market.

The opportunity for food and Agriculture has been well documented. An increase in disposable income and the desire for safe and better quality food continues to drive the consumption of imported foods. Cairns has the potential to export high end produce out of our international airport directly into Asian markets, of which China is by far the largest. More Chinese are travelling and experiencing our food and western diets. They are returning home and looking for the same experience. Fresh fruit and seafood could find a home in China as import restrictions ease. Air freight out of an international airport, like Cairns, could potentially supply high value product directly into a supply chain connected to high end restaurants. Branding will play a critical role, with our Australia Brand continuing to be recognised for clean and green, a reputation enhanced by our Tourism Industry. One of the key reasons that New Zealand has been so successful in getting produce into China has been a focus on building a national, 100% focused brand, through top level co-operation across all of its market sectors.

The third opportunity is, of course, tourism. 1.1million Chinese visited Australia in the 2016 financial year representing a 20% increase YOY with this growth forecast to continue. These visitors also spent more, on average, per head than any other tourist travelling to Australia.  Educating tourists, and our tourism operators, around the high quality of our food, our local produce and services would ensure they drive their tourism dollar further through their advocacy of our services, education and regional food upon their return home, through advocacy, both in their immediate communities and online.

Tourism is the doorway to Cairns, capturing the premium end of the largest market in the world… a market that just happens to sit in the same time zone and is located strategically right on our doorstep. This opportunity will be lost to us if we don’t proactively market our region. Investment in the Airport and Education facilities may be something that can be addressed through the NAÏF that is based in Cairns, but we need this investment to commence to facilitate the trade and capture the opportunity… now.