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Tasmania’s bite-sized Exports

Tasmania’s bite-sized Exports article image

Once renown for its apples, Tasmania's international trade now consists of their niche agribusiness products and their clean energy expertise. It looks like an apple, it grows a lot of apples and if you sink your teeth into the right place, it tastes like an apple, but today the so-called Apple Isle, Tasmania, is famous for more than its fruit. "Our traditional strengths have been in agribusiness, the food and beverage sector. If you’re looking historically, it’s dairy and fresh produce like onions and potatoes. If you go back to European settlement, it was the only climate the Europeans could tame. It had a more consistent rainfall than other states," explains Tristram Travers, Austrade’s state manager for Tasmania. "In more recent times the largest exports are minerals and oil in terms of dollar value." Blessed with natural advantages-fertile soil, reliable rainfall, clean air and a longer growing season than other Australian states-Tasmania is an obvious choice to provide food products to Australia and the world. But Tasmania’s agribusiness strength is not just in staple fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes, the state is increasingly exporting niche food products, sometimes for specific markets. Earlier this year, Minister for Trade Simon Crean reported that Tasmanian grower Reid Fruits sold 17.5 tons of Satonishiki cherries, a Japanese variety, to its home country. Travers says this was possible because, free from fruit flies that plague the mainland states, Tasmania has quarantine freedom with Japan. He lists other novel agricultural exports such as poppies, wasabi (horseradish), buckwheat and canola free from genetic modification as emerging products. Robert Heazlewood, executive director of Brand Tasmania, agrees that the state has become more specialised and has done well by offering premium food and beverage products. "Because the volume of our exports are smaller, we’re not considered a serious commodity player, so we need to be niche," he says. "And because our distribution is further away, it makes sense to get a premium price for a premium product." Distribution is a key challenge for the island state, but it means Tasmanian businesses are born to export. "It’s a small market in itself so shipping is a natural extension of business whether that be shipping to the mainland or shipping internationally," says Travers. Because shipping vessels frequent Tasmania less often than other ports on the mainland, however, and the costs of shipping can be prohibitive for some, he believes this is a drawback that Tasmanians need to address during their logistics management. Despite this, Travers believes there are plenty of opportunities for Tasmanian businesses to add value to their exports, particularly in services and in the clean energy sector. "A lot of it comes back to the innovation you get from being an island state. Tasmania was using clean energy long before the world even knew what clean energy was," he says. "We have a well-established clean energy industry so we have a natural advantage passing on our knowledge in that area." Marine shipbuilding, and the businesses and suppliers that support the sector, is another notable industry in the Tasmanian economy and includes everything from materials and equipment to ICT services and life raft systems.

Making a mark

It is this concentration of premium quality and expertise that Brand Tasmania wishes to package and promote under a place-of-origin brand. A conglomerate of public and private sector advocates, Brand Tasmania’s mission is to make it easier for people to discover Tasmania, says Heazlewood. "Our research has shown that Tasmania, when selling internationally, is not well known, but that people want the story of Tasmania. We create a positive perception of Tasmania emphasising the freshness and taste of our food and the innovation of our people." Brand Tasmania helps exporters by providing critical mass support, bringing together Tasmanian businesses under one banner to strengthen the overall brand. This includes exhibiting domestically and overseas together and providing master imagery to increase recognition of Tasmania as a mark of quality. The state government also helps with everything from grants, market information and access-which includes facilitating contact with potential partners-through to missions and an inward buyer program bringing potential buyers and influencers into the state. George Chambers, deputy general manager of Export and Investment Marketing at Tasmania’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism, says their grants program helps smaller businesses with export expenses where Austrade’s federally run Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme cannot. "Unlike EMDG, the Export Marketing Assistance Scheme has no threshold requirements," he says. "There are some criteria, such as the product or service coming from Tasmania, and there are some limits on the amounts we’ll give for activities like travel, for example, but we find a lot of small companies come to us because they don’t spend anywhere near the amount required for EMDG." The grant is for businesses turning over less than $20 million a year and provides funds up to $10,000, though Chambers says the average claim is $3,500. Another popular government-run initiative is a series of workshops for new and existing exporters addressing everything from export practices to branding and risk mitigation. As for the future, Travers says the Tasmanian export landscape has already started to change for the better in many ways: "The nature of the Tasmanian economy is that in recent history we’ve underperformed but we’re turning that around. Tasmania now commands niches of premium."

Trade links

BizTas: www.biztas.com Brand Tasmania: www.brandtasmania.com Department of Economic Development and Tourism: www.development.tas.gov.au/export Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: www.tcci.com.au

CASE STUDY: The Learning Edge

If you've ever thought of all the knowledge in the world as a giant heap of scrambled information, you'd probably be interested in The Learning Edge International, a Hobart-based company that has developed EQUELLA-software that gives users tools to build a digital repository for information, then allows sorting to facilitate education. Largely used in primary and secondary schools as well as TAFEs, colleges and universities, EQUELLA is set to survive tough times due to its intrinsic link with education. "Education is a steady market. Our clients are usually different from our consumers. We don't sell to individual schools-our clients tend to be governments, and the consumers are the educators, which could be the schools under the administration of the government," says marketing manager Alistair Oliver. "Governments don't reduce spending in education in a downturn because it's a core service." The Learning Edge is built upon a business model that puts direct selling at the forefront of its export strategy. In addition to demonstrating the software at educational trade shows and conferences, the company went straight for mature markets such as the USA and Europe by setting up operations in Boston, near Harvard University, and London, respectively. "We decided to go to the USA and Europe because we saw there was an interest in e-learning, and the size and maturity of both markets were attractive," explains Oliver. "Because we work by direct selling, it made sense to set up teams in those markets." One challenge is language. The Learning Edge have developed language packs to accompany the software in non-English-speaking countries, which is done on an ad hoc basis as the users require, but Oliver sees this process improving as they seek specific markets. The company has taken home a number of awards, including Tasmanian Exporter of the Year at the 2008 Export Awards, for their successful approach. Oliver says this is due to two things-working collaboratively with users to achieve educational outcomes, and focusing on the sector as a niche. "We do have corporate clients, but what separates us from our competitors is that they tend to spread themselves wide whereas education is our core market. We chose a niche and that's why our clients choose us," he says.

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