Asia has always been an intriguing market for American businesses.
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In the past, exporting to Asia was as simple as loading a ship with merchandise and sending it on its way. But to effectively penetrate today's Asian markets, exporters have to rely on a more sophisticated approach.
The combined economies of Asia are a rising powerhouse of international trade. China – the region's most rapidly growing economy – accounts for a large percentage of Asian imports. However, Northeast Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan) are similarly impressive as the third, seventh, and tenth largest importers of American products. Although Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) lags behind its counterparts, these countries have combined their influence to control the direction of the ten-nation ASEAN trading block.
The Importance of Relationships
Relationships are an important element of any exporting strategy. However, relationships are especially important for exporters to Asia. Asians have traditionally placed a high value on relationships in both their personal and business dealings. Additionally, economic downturns in previous decades sent many exporters to Asia scurrying to other countries. Those who stayed strengthened their alliances within Asia and subsequently reaped the rewards when the Asian economies rebounded.
The lesson for new exporters is that a long-term outlook is essential for success in Asia. Although short-term exporters may see limited success, the most effective exporters are those who are committed to building lasting relationships with agents, distributors, and other strategic partners in the region.
Building Effective Relationships
Even though exporters who lack long-term relationships in Asia are at a disadvantage, there are several things new exporters can do to level the playing field and jumpstart the relationship-building process. As the exporter, it's important to consider what benefits your Asian partners receive from your relationship. If the relationship is lopsided, your success will be compromised because it will be difficult to retain partners. Fair business dealings are a must, but knowledge-sharing, regular communication, and long-term alliances can be equally important in creating a balanced relationship.
Another way new exporters overcome the relationship hurdle is to seek out networking opportunities. Under the right circumstances, active participation in networking organizations and events can give you access to relationships others have built in your target Asian market. If you don't know where to begin, visit the U.S. government's exporting website at www.export.gov. On this site you will find information about in-region tradeshows and other resources designed to connect new exporters with networking opportunities.
Keep in mind that not every person or organization you meet will be a good candidate for a long-term relationship. In exporting, the relationship-building process has been compared to a marriage. Before a long-term commitment is made, both parties need to engage in courtship and engagement periods. If at any time in the process you begin to feel uneasy or uncomfortable, it's better to break off the relationship and pursue other avenues rather than lock into a relationship that could ultimately prove detrimental to your business.