Hard work will reap rewards in a global economy

The Scotch whisky industry has shrugged off the worldwide recession. Picture: PA

The Scotch whisky industry has shrugged off the worldwide recession. Picture: PA

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Politicians never miss an opportunity to hammer home the message that we are competing in a global economy and that we have to get our goods and services out to the wider marketplace. In short: export or die.

In the macro-economic sphere, there is every reason to be satisfied that the message is hitting home. The Scotch whisky industry has shrugged off the worldwide recession, food exports are healthy and our big engineers are carrying on a fine tradition of not only operating in a global environment but also beating the opposition off the park.

Now, say the export enthusiasts, it’s time for Scotland’s small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to step up to the plate.

It is time for them to essay forth into the world and pick the low hanging fruits from the tree of export success. Would that it were so easy.

The hard fact of life on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder is that SMEs, regardless of the quality of their offering, face a Sisyphean task to break into established markets in the economies in which the real money now resides.

In the emerging economies of the East, it is a long, hard slog of knocking on doors, attending trade shows and, increasingly in our case, bio-partnering – a kind of speed-dating for businesses where you have a limited time to make your pitch to a succession of parties.

And it is easy to be tripped by unexpected cultural and social mores.

It is rare to encounter anything but scrupulous courtesy when doing face-to-face business in many Asian countries. At the same time, however, exporters have to be acutely aware that, while they may be at the top of the agenda while they are in the room with a prospective customer, they are often just a vague memory by the time they have shut the door behind them on the way out after making their pitch.

Once established in eastern markets, however, relationships can be strong and lasting.

Both Scottish and British companies are welcome on the other side of the world and the fruits of international trade are sweet.

But you have to put in the work. When did anything good come easily?

• Dr Joanna Oliver is the chief executive of AvantiCell Science

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