The state government of Victoria, Australia returned to the UAE this week to drum up trade and investment ties in the region. Louise Asher, who among her numerous titles is also minister for employment and trade, led the “Victoria Week” mission. She also hosted a Women in International Business Forum. Here she explains why repeat visits are important in developing trade links and why the grand prix has been grand for Melbourne.
You previously led trade delegations to the UAE in February 2012 and February 2013. How successful were those?
We’ve been very, very pleased with the results so far from our trade missions. There were 250 delegates that came with us last time and they have reported onward sales of over A$200 million [Dh689.8m] over two years. We’ve yet to announce what we’ll do in terms of another delegation but … we’ll be back. We understand that when you are pursuing trade markets one visit is one visit; there needs to be a constant reinvestment and recontact and establishing personal relationships. We have a small domestic market and if we want our small and medium-sized enterprises to grow and employ more people we are going to have to look for new markets, and obviously exports are key to the level of growth.
Why the focus on businesswomen this time?
This time 38 per cent of the delegation is female, which is the highest we’ve seen. The Women in International Business Forum — it’s the first one the government’s done and obviously we will sit down and evaluate how it went but my preliminary views are it was a good opportunity for people to meet and there were a lot of business cards being exchanged. I don’t expect people to have done a deal over the table over lunch, but this is all about relationships and hopefully this is the start of some good ongoing relationships for the women who attend the lunch.
The food sector is very important for you. How important is halal food within this market?
A lot of Australian businesses have gone through – I don’t know if you can formally call it an accreditation process, but they certainly have had imams in to check the way that the beasts are slaughtered and a lot of effort has been put in by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation and businesses within that sector to ensure that we are halal-compliant. I think there is a significant amount of confidence in what we offer as a Victorian product. This market is growing; it’s wealthy; the Emirati population and the expats here demand a very high quality of food and beverages and Victoria is able to supply that. We’ve exports to the Mena region worth A$2.8 billion now and food accounts for [about] A$1.3bn of that. We think there is significant capacity for us to increase that market.
You are also hosting an event for the alumni of Victoria’s education facilities. Why are relationships important?
One thing about the internationalisation of Victorian education — that’s our number one export — is that we have so many people all over the world who have been through Victoria’s universities or even indeed our international schools [such as the one] in Sharjah. So that alumni block is incredibly important to us because they can be our best advocates. We are also trying to tap into people who have done business with Victoria, who have a Victorian connection [who can] advocate for Victoria.
Melbourne has hosted the grand prix since 1996. The contract to host the event there after 2015 is up for renegotiation and taxpayers have griped about the high fees they bear. Do the benefits of hosting the grand prix outweigh the costs?
There are significant benefits to holding the grand prix. There is the direct tourism benefit from the interstate and the international tourists that come and we’ve quantified that between A$32m and A$39m. There is a branding effect and we’ve quantified that as around A$34m. We’ve still got two races to go under our current contract. We are having some discussions at the moment about what price the contract will be renewed. As a government we’ve said that it has to represent value for money for taxpayers, but in the end the cabinet will make that decision. I think it’s been great for Melbourne, it’s put us on the map — it came to us when we did not have the tourism numbers we’ve now got.