Crouching tigers, hidden dragons and swaggering swans: The Exporters of the Year Awards [The Fiji Times, 7 March 2004]
When the “exporter of the year” (EYA) winners are announced, there are cheers from the tables of the winning companies. But there are also a few muted groans: “Oh no! It’s the same lot again”.
We all know the well-known winners- the “swaggering swans”- mostly glamourous companies and products; mostly expatriate; mostly great at PR.
You won’t see the unpolished emerging exporters- the “crouching tigers”.
And, you won’t see the very successful companies (foreign and local) who deliberately keep a very low profile- they don’t even enter the EYA competition.
Can we expect otherwise? Should it be otherwise?
The EYA objectives?
Of course, the EYA night should recognise and reward excellent exporters- to further encourage them. This does happen currently.
But the EYAs should do much more.
It should encourage the growth of key export industries which can lead to maximum jobs- probably the most pressing development problem facingFiji.
It should reveal the good role models for other exporters.
And the EYA should encourage not only the hidden dragons to enter, but also the large numbers of small exporters who are currently deterred from entering.
How encourage key exports?
Economists know thatFiji’s economic growth needs to be focused on key exports: tourism, sugar, timber, fisheries and other key local resources areas. And there should be maximum value adding locally, if jobs and incomes are to be maximised.
But the current EYAs do not focus on these key areas.
The current EYAs are organised along size (large, medium, small), country destinations (Australia,NZ,US), and special awards for services, new exporter, unique exporter, and indigenous exporter. And naturally, the destination awards are sponsored by interested organisations (like shipping companies or business councils).
This also results in unfair comparisons between inherently different products.
How can a package of frozen cassava or dried beche de mer compete with glossy body lotions which are brilliantly marketed as items craved by glamourousHollywoodbodies?
Yet the unglamourous product may have far more local content, employment creation, higher incomes in villages and rural communities than the glamorous products (which may have largely imported inputs with minor local value added- mostly packaging).
Of course, the very successful glamorous exporter deserves a prize- probably a niche market award. And other exporters can surely learn from them, about marketing at the upper end.
But the FTIB urgently needs to identify key industries (including services) which will have separate awards associated with them, with jobs, value adding and potential for national economic contribution, as the important criteria.
There must be separate awards (and neutral sponsors- perhaps government ministries) for: timber products, fisheries products, agricultural produce, flower exports, tourism services, industries utilising ICT and the Internet, to name just a few.
The current awards can continue, with the addition of others: a regional exports award (recognising the importance of PICTA); an EU award; and perhaps an award for Asia- recognising the increasing importance ofJapan,Korea,Taiwan,ChinaandIndiaas markets.
Bring out the “hidden dragons”
Many highly successfulFiji exporters (the dragons) do not enter the annual EYA.
Some do not wish to draw attention from competitors or the tax department : why advertise that you are making good money?
And some feel culturally out of place in a “Denarau” event.
Surely, it would be toFiji’s advantage if these dragons did come out into the open, to provide a learning curve for other potential exporters.
How identify and encourage them?
The need for exhibitions
Entries for the EYA do not flood in. Many have to be cajoled. Many entries are “poor” entries, “one pagers” with a minimum of information, which cannot impress the judges.
A few entries are extremely sophisticated glossy entries, high on PR and marketing skills, inevitably impressing the judges.
How do the poor entries learn from the good?
Currently, during the EYA night, the awards are made; a brief description of the company, goods or services, is provided; most have a good feed and booze-up; then everybody goes home. There is little learning taking place.
Surely there should be exhibition rooms (e.g. at the FTIB) with samples of all the products that are exported out ofFiji?
Perhaps the successful entries to the EYA (with the confidential information left out) could be made available to all exporters- so learning can take place.
So that emerging exporters can understand the requirements of quality, innovation, marketing, etc.
Criteria for assessment
Judges invariably face difficulty in defining a “successful” exporter, in relation to other exporters. What is more important- the growth factor, the size factor, general relevance for other exporters andFiji’s development?
A small company, starting from a low base, may have a high growth rate in earning foreign exchange, be very successful in a niche market, and be very glossily presented. Yet such a model may not be easily copied by others inFiji.
Another may be a larger company with considerably significant export earnings, employment, and domestic value added, but with moderate growth rate, perhaps producing an unglamorous product, selling in a very competitive mass market.
The latter could be a crucial role model forFiji’s manufacturers under stress from globalisation.
In the absence of agreed upon criteria it is understandable if judges’ subjective personal preferences decide winners- perhaps by voting, if there is no consensus.
Can there by clearer criteria and objective rules for deciding winners?
And how treat an excellent entry which has won before?
Naturally, if judges keep giving awards to the same companies, year after year, the others must get discouraged.
Perhaps previous winners should not be given the major awards again (except under exceptional circumstances- which should be clearly specified).
But they could be given other recognition- such as being asked to join the Prime Minister’s table of “Eminent Exporters Group” (EEG) at the EYA night?
Culturally sensitive venue?
The 2003 EYA, held at the Sheraton (Denarau), could easily cost a couple some $500 for the evening. Few struggling small exporters can afford that.
While some may get their money’s worth (in food and drinks), there are those who are not alcohol drinkers, and perhaps even vegetarians.
And inevitably, small and poorer applicants for the EYA (from outside of Nadi) must be discouraged from attending, because of the venue and the cost.
Exporters and FTIB should give serious consideration to having the EYA night inSuvaor Nadi, with modest meal offerings on the menu, and alcohol made available on a user-pays basis.
It is odd that there is no Fiji TV, which gives hours to Oscars, Emmys and Grammys, produce no documentary about the EYA night- an important event forFiji’s development.
Surely, the public (and potential exporters) would like to see at first hand, what constitutes a successful export industry, company and product.
What about visual clips of the actual operations of their factories, the working conditions of employees, and the variety of products which make it to the short list for every category?
Not only might the public get a better idea of why prizes are being awarded, but also understand where export industries should be heading. And the EYA night would have a better chance of achieving its objectives.
Such changes for the EYA processes need action not just from FTIB and government, but the affected exporters themselves.
Are they up to it?
[Dr Narsey was one of the judges for the 2003 EYA night. These are his views, not necessarily those of the other judges, or of USP where he works].