While the main Australian business hitting the headlines in China is the country's booming resources sector, a growing diversity of Australian industry is capturing a slice of the Chinese market.
Australian services and products either exported to China or produced here are increasingly underpinning the steadily growing Australia/China trade relationship, says Austrade's Shanghai Senior Trade Commissioner Christopher Wright.
Austrade, or the Australian Trade Commission, is the Australian government's trade-promotion agency which has a rapidly expanding network of offices across China.
China recently surpassed Japan as Australia's biggest trade partner. In 2007 Australia's trade to China topped A$59.9 billion (US$57.18 billion), with more than 4,200 Australian companies exporting to China.
Beyond resources, the major export industries are finance and financial services, property and construction and related service industries, education and manufacturing related industries.
The number of small to medium-sized Australian companies exporting to China has doubled in the past two years.
"We are finding we are getting more and more companies coming through our door that we have never dealt with before and the range is just huge," Wright says.
This rise in the number of small to medium-sized enterprises wanting to take advantage of China's economic boom is backed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce (AustCham).
AustCham Executive Director Kate Pollitt says out of the more than 400 members in Shanghai, more than 50 are small to medium-sized firms.
"The number of small to medium-sized firms becoming members has steadily grown, but in the last year or so it has increased a lot," Pollitt says.
Both Pollitt and Wright agreed that the high profile of China in the media, combined with a growing confidence among smaller firms about doing business in China, has led many companies to take the plunge. "There is a lot more of a focus in the media back in Australia on what is going on in China and there are just a lot of success stories,'' Pollitt says. ''A lot of people I speak to are doing very well and it's not often I hear any disastrous stories."
In some key industries like financial services there are a number of companies that have extensive China experience.
Long-term Australian players in the financial services, like ANZ Bank that has been operating in China for more than 19 years, are looking to roll out more branches in regional areas. They have been joined by many of Australia's big banks attempting to capture a slice of the growing demand for a broader range of financial services.
Wright predicts this sector will increasingly see a number of smaller niche service providers entering the China market, providing a range of consumer services like mortgage broking and insurance, as well as outsourcing services directly to banks. "I think there is going to be a wave of opportunity in the financial services sector on a business-to-business basis and also a wave of opportunity across services and consumer products across the business consumer base," he says.
Australia has an established building and construction industry that has been well positioned to take advantage of opportunities in China. As well as big players like BlueScope Steel, architectural firms have also ridden the construction boom with big firms like Woodhead, Hassels and PTW Architects securing key projects across China. In one of Australian architecture's more high profile coups, PTW Architects designed the distinctive National Aquatics Center or "Water Cube" for the Beijing Olympics.
Education is also a booming industry, with more than 100,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australian schools. Australian education institutions are forging strong links in China. A recent example was the awarding to NSW TAFE, a big technical college in New South Wales, the contract to train 180,000 volunteers at Shanghai's 2010 Expo. NSW TAFE specializes in large scale training, having trained volunteers for the Sydney and Athens Olympics.
Australian firms are also increasingly well positioned to take advantage of the spending power of China's growing middle class. One example is Australian wines which have developed a reputation for high quality and value for money.
Despite a strongly appreciating Australian dollar, Australian wines are increasingly popular and showing strong sales growth. Wright said that the volume of Australian wine doubled last year.
Australia's diverse range of tourist attractions is also attracting increasing numbers of Chinese travelers. More than 300,000 Chinese visited Australia last year, many on the 30 direct flights out of Shanghai every week.
(Shanghai Daily July 28, 2008)