For Norwegian businesses looking to enter Asia, a wide range of support, including the Foreign Service, is there to help companies take the first step.
Expanding into Asia is the logical decision for most businesses. It’s the most populous continent on earth and will only keep growing. On the other hand, the region is complex and some ways away from Norway which presents a myriad of potential concerns.
“The distance, cultural differences and risk of the unknown are some of the challenges Norwegian companies face when entering Asia. These are not easy to overcome. Especially without assistance,” Mr Fredrik Bjerke Abdelmaguid, Senior Advisor, Business Promotion and Green Transition, at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), shares. “There are also regulatory issues that can be difficult to understand, let alone navigate, for those new to a country.”
Firms trying to go it alone when entering Asia are prone to making mistakes because they don’t know any better. A seemingly reasonable idea on the surface can cause difficulties when implemented.
“One mistake you do see made by companies entering Asia is the setting up of an office in one country while trying to operate in another. Doing this can create an uphill struggle that would be avoided by being based on where you operate,” Mr Abdelmaguid cites as an example.
Additionally, he urges companies to look beyond demographics and find the best fit. Doing research on this before you arrive can eliminate obstacles when it comes time to start. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the foreign mission operating in that country. They are able to share local knowledge allowing you to make an informed decision.
“If you are considering entering Asia, you should reach out to the local mission as soon as you’re interested in doing business there. They can have information or insights that can assist you. It’s also good for them to know you are coming or if you happen to be there already,” Mr Abdelmaguid says.
That being said, it’s important to understand what can and cannot be provided. Foreign missions don’t have the capabilities to assist with minor details or the minutiae of operations. Early contact with the MFA should focus on the knowledge and information they have access to.
“One area the MFA can advise on locally is security and risk. They will know the geopolitics and local issues. They can provide updates on how you can avoid risk,” Mr Abdelmaguid points out. “Most local missions have a contact person focused on trade and the local economy who will understand business in the country as well.”
There are many other tools available that companies may not know about. Mr Abdelmaguid highlights the fact a firm can use the Ambassador’s Residence in their respective countries to host events like opening an office, signing an MOU or big product launches.
However, it’s not just the MFA and each respective foreign mission providing assistance. There is a vast network and access to support services that can be utilised by Norwegian companies planning to operate in new markets overseas.
Join the Team
The MFA and local foreign missions are one element of a larger resource pool companies wanting to set up operations abroad can access. An entire team of public and private sector entities promotes Norwegian business interests internationally. It’s known as Team Norway.
“There is an emphasis on Team Norway with ministries and government agencies working as a team alongside the private sector to support the efforts of Norwegian companies working outside the country,” Mr Abdelmaguid explains. “It is a system that has been in place for a long time and can be a valuable resource. In Asia, the offerings are very robust.”
Team Norway has been built as an ecosystem to support the government’s ambition of increasing exports and outbound trade. Every business can access this backing which includes the embassy, various organisations and other local groups.
“Team Norway acts as a hub led by the local mission. This is where the local strategy is developed. Innovation Norway focuses on business promotion and growth in select countries. It is hands-on with business-to-business functions on the ground,” Mr Abdelmaguid details. “There are sector-specific interests in some countries and regions as well. These include Norwegian Energy Partners and the Norwegian Seafood Council. Then, on the ground, you have the local chambers of commerce who can provide a different level of assistance.”
Mr Abdelmaguid hails Innovation Norway as a great resource in the countries where it’s located while also emphasising the vital role local chambers of commerce play in supporting businesses entering new markets.
“The chambers of commerce contribute greatly to a business entering a new market. They provide networking opportunities and the sharing of experiences in a more informal setting,” Mr Abdelmaguid says. “Here, you will find information on areas the MFA and Innovation Norway may not have. This is where you may find answers to legal or day-to-day business questions which can only be learned through experience.”
In Asia, Team Norway has well-built operations in Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea and India while Vietnam and Thailand boast a strong presence as emerging markets. Additionally, companies that have already entered a country but didn’t use these resources can still become involved.
“It is never too late to contact anyone in Team Norway. We want everyone pulling together. Regardless of where your company is in its journey, there is support on offer. Collaboration is vital to the success of Norwegian businesses abroad,” Mr Abdelmaguid proclaims.
When it comes to exports and outbound trade, Norway’s strengths are prioritised as these can tap into built-in advantages. Shipping, oil & gas, aquaculture and seafood are among the key industries. Meanwhile, renewables and businesses supporting the green transition are gaining traction in overseas markets.
“There are many Norwegian companies that can contribute to the green transition worldwide and we want to help them bridge that gap,” Mr Abdelmaguid points out.
The expansion of Tinfos in Indonesia shows how these efforts can be successful. The hydropower outfit has begun building a portfolio of run-of-river plants which can play a needed role in the country’s shift away from coal.
Elsewhere, there has been an uptick in Norwegian companies providing circular economy solutions entering Asia. Some are focused on plastic waste and ocean plastics while others have keyed in on other areas.
For instance, Cambi’s thermal hydrolysis solutions for sewage sludge and organic waste management yield more biogas than other treatment methods while transforming solids into a product that can be used as organic fertiliser on land. The company now has offices across the globe, including three in Asia–China, Singapore and South Korea.
“Both Cambi and Tinfos have done a good job of leveraging the tools provided to them through Team Norway and other sources,” Mr Abdelmaguid states. “A challenge in Asia is that it can be difficult to receive government approval for a pilot project in the renewables or circular economy space. There can be a lot of obstacles. To this end, foreign missions can help companies better understand local regulations and clarify what may be required.”
In addition to local regulations, financing is another essential element of the process. For firms operating in the green transition space, options may be available through Export Finance Norway (Eksfin) and multilateral banks.
“There are huge opportunities through multilateral banks that Norwegian businesses have been hesitant to access for various reasons, including the bureaucracy involved with applying. Eksfin may also be an option,” Mr Abdelmaguid reports.
Entering Asia is not easy, but it can certainly be done. No matter what sector a business is in, Mr Abdelmaguid’s message is simple, “Use all of Team Norway. That is what we are here for. There are many opportunities available.”
- Team Norway is a team of public and private sector entities promoting Norwegian business interests internationally
- Companies entering Asia can reach out to the local MFA mission for information or insights
- In Asia, Team Norway has well-built operations in Singapore, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Vietnam and Thailand
- Businesses can use the Ambassador’s Residence in their respective countries to host important events
- Companies focused on the green transition may be eligible for financing from Eksfin and multilateral banks
- Cambi and Tinfos are examples of companies that have successfully used Team Norway resources in Asia
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