UK: SE Asia presents export opportunity, UK firms told

By Michelle Russell | 13 December 2012

Markets in south-east Asia should be a target for UK food exporters, the country's government said today (13 December).

Countries including the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand are emerging as potential markets for UK food manufacturers, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office told an industry conference.

"It's not all about China," Peter Wilson, the FCO's director for Asia Pacific, said at an event organised by the UK Food and Drink Export Association. "South East Asia is growing almost as rapidly as China."

Wilson said there were six "rapidly emerging economies" in the region, which also include Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The fastest growing, he said, was the Philippines.

"They use English to communicate so it's an easy place to make initial access to," Wilson said. "Indonesia is the largest in size and their middle class is larger than India. It is a country the UK is rapidly building a political relationship with."

UK food and drink manufacturers are looking to export markets to drive sales. However, some in the industry believes the country's government needs to do more support companies' export ambitions.

Earlier at the event, a senior government minister insisted the country was increasing the level of support its offers food exporters, including talks on free-trade agreements.

Wilson said the Government was "really pushing" such deals, with the more mature market of Japan "at the top of the list".

However, he added: "Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam want to negotiate free trade agreements also, so this is a great political advantage to us."

On Japan, Wilson said the country had in the past become "very peculiar to itself", but added: "It has a population of young people experimenting. We are doing a lot of work to change perceptions of British produce there and the EU is working to open trade agreements which will represent new opportunities."

On Malaysia, Wilson said UK Prime Minister David Cameron had made "a huge effort" to "reboot" the UK's relationship with the country, making it another emerging export economy, while Thailand, he said, has an economy that continues to grow at 5-7% annual. "Thailand also has a large middle class with rapidly changing tastes with a population that is experimenting."

Wilson also highlighted Vietnam as a key country for export opportunities, with its 80m plus strong population. However, he said: "It is a communist country so it's not an easy market but it is one that is beginning to grow. This is an inspiring message for these markets. They are in a much better place to receive exports than some years ago. 

Singapore, Wilson said, is an "established" export market, adding that the UK exports more to the country than any other in South East Asia. "It has high quality services and it is an easy place to launch high end products," he told attendees.

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