Northern Asia is racing to embrace the Internet economy and Australian companies should act now to take advantage of the business opportunities. That is the message from investment bankers The Harrington Partnership.
"I am amazed at the extraordinary uptake of technology," said managing director Geoff Baker. "We are seeing fundamental changes in economies and there is a window of opportunity in the early development of the Internet and the new economy."
China, Korea and Japan are expected to spearhead Asia's charge into the world of e-commerce, with the Chinese Government recently pledging that by 2003, every business in the country will be able to conduct business online. Australian companies who have reached their growth limit in the local market should not be deterred from entering the Asian market as cultural and economic barriers are rapidly broken down.
"Asia is in a great hurry to catch up to the rest of the e-commerce world," Baker said. But he warned companies against trying to "Americanise" the market as infrastructure and purchasing power of each nation varies greatly.
Australian companies in tune with these market vagaries can capitalise on this "window of opportunity".
In Australia, Internet users are topping out at 6 or 7 million. In Korea, analysts estimate 28 million people will be connected to the Internet by the end of this year.
"There are huge opportunities for investment and a willingness to accept that investment," Baker said.
China remains the most dynamic market, according to Harrington consultant Helen Zhang. Its expected entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is expected to result in a drop in import tariffs and more foreign investment.
"China is around two to three years behind us in terms of the Internet's development and growth rate," she said. "But the window of opportunity will be open for the next one to two years. Expect more than 20 million users by the end of 2000 with an 80 per cent growth rate to 2003."
It is important to realise that although China has a population of more than 1.2 billion, businesses must realise that only 30 per cent of this population in the top 20 cities represents the real market with disposable income, she said.
Harrington has been working with Liberty One in its push into the Asian market with Web development company Zivo.