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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Answers from Down Under

By Ngan Tran (*)

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“I am all fine, Mum.” That’s what I will say when my mother makes a phone call asking how I have prepped for the Lunar New Year. She always wonders if I can buy enough ingredients in Australia to make traditional Vietnamese dishes, though I have a zillion times told her: “Mum, all are there, easy to find.”

Yes, I live in Australia but can find any ingredient to cook Vietnamese dishes, except certain raw and fresh materials that cannot be shipped if not dried or frozen such as bamboo shoot, fish or tea. And most of Vietnamese specialties can be found at stores trading in Vietnamese or Asian products. Certain food items that I often buy include ri6 durian, Mr. Cua ST25 rice, dragon fruit, basa fish, all types of flour to make cakes, and all you name it.

Other made-in-Vietnam products like bamboo baskets, clothes, and surprisingly yogurt are available at major Australian supermarket chains like Target, Kmart, Burning and Costco. And I maintain the habit of choosing these items with a vague hope that I can help my home country sell more products.

Occasionally, when wanting to enjoy authentic Vietnamese dishes without having to do the cooking, we will drop by restaurants that offer not only the right flavors but also the homeland brandnames such as Pho Thin and Pho Ly Quoc Su. How could I say such restaurants give the authentic flavors? It is because Mr. Thin himself has once flown to Australia to inaugurate this very branch, while the owner of Pho Ly Quoc Su has also made an announcement on the business to the Vietnamese community Down Under. And so we could feel assured to enjoy homeland brands right in Australia.

Interestingly still, during major festivals like the Lunar New Year, local governments in Australia as a multiracial country also create favorable conditions for ethnic groups to enjoy their native atmosphere by organizing festivities, spring bazaars, unicorn performances or displays of their homeland products.

Apart from spiritual assistance, the Australian Government, aware of problems facing immigrants, has also launched support programs to help those people to quickly integrate into the society there, including free English courses, workshops to disseminate knowledge on how to do business in Australia, even one-on-one training upon requirement. Staff at these agencies are often Vietnamese Australians who have good commands of spoken English and Vietnamese, so we can feel confident to speak out our problems in the mother tongue to get the clear and exact answer. In August 2022, I also participated in a similar workshop organized by the state of Victoria, and obtained valuable knowledge from the event.

Of course there are also groups of Vietnamese who converge to help each other in Australia, such as the Vietnamese Business Support Organization (VBSO) or the Vietnamese Community in Australia, where we can seek answers from them to prepare for a new life here, either as an international student or an immigrant.

Destination for Vietnamese products?

Many of my friends in Vietnam often ask if Australia is a worthwhile destination for Vietnamese exports. It will be subjective if I say yes after living for just five years in this country, though my family and my friends always set aside a decent budget each month to buy food imported from Vietnam like rice, vermicelli or types of flour. Therefore, I hope that the following numbers will give the answer.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that as of June 2020, there were 270,340 Vietnamese-born people living in Australia. This makes the Vietnamese-born population the sixth largest migrant community in Australia, equivalent to 3.5% of Australia’s overseas-born population and 1.1% of Australia’s total population (1). Between January and July 2022, there were 19,932 Vietnamese students furthering their studies in Australia, ranking fourth behind the numbers from China, India and Nepal (2).

Within just eight hours from two major cities of Sydney and Melbourne, you can find yourself in HCMC after taking a direct flight. Climatic conditions in Australia are fairly similar to Vietnam’s, for instance in Queensland where I once lived, many tropical fruits can be grown such as papaya, jack-fruit or even dragon-fruit. These traits make Australia a destination of choice for many Vietnamese youths wanting to improve knowledge, experience living in an English-speaking country, or simply explore a new living environment.

Further, the Vietnamese community in Australia is ever expanding owing to Australia’s easy-going immigration policy. There are also several people of Vietnamese origin assuming important positions in the Australian Government, such as 54-year-old Le Thi Trang Dai (Dai Le) as the first Vietnamese Australian elected into the federal parliament in the recent election, or Jamine Nguyen and Anthony Tran as the youngest Vietnamese Australians assuming the post of mayor of Brimbank and Maribyrnong in Melbourne, aged 25 and 22 years only, respectively (3).

How to prepare for “export springtime”?

The potential to step up exports to Australia is visible, but how to successfully do business in Australia rests with enterprises. In order to achieve success, apart from preparing commodities and improving service quality, enterprises need to set up barriers to protect their intellectual property when making foray into international markets in general and Australia in particular. Such preparations will help enterprises avoid regrettable problems that have occurred to Vietnamese brands in Australia. For example, Pho Ly Quoc Su had to spend over one year to settle issues before being able to register a brandname of its own establishment in Vietnam. Or Pho Thin has been waiting for long pending a ruling from competent agencies in Australia regarding an Australian-based franchisee registering the Vietnamese brand as its own. Similarly, Phuc Long has been protesting the registration of its brand by a company in Australia.

Enterprises planning to export commodities to Australia need to observe the following steps (4):

First, the protection of intellectual property rights such as brandnames, patents, business know-how, and industrial designs can help increase the commercial value of products and services to be exported. It is because for customers they are signifiers of ownership, quality, and reputation. A customer buy product A because it is manufactured by company B from Vietnam, for instance.

Second, be certain about the intellectual property rights (IPR) your company owns in both local and foreign export markets. This certainty helps prevent risks of incurring costs when disputes arise between the parties. To do so, the enterprise needs to have a team of IPR practitioners, not only to safeguard the enterprise’s interests but also to comply with IPR regulations in other countries.

Copyrighted works such as books, songs, movies, games, images and sounds, recognizing the complete set of your and others’ copyright will open mutually profitable business avenues and avoid infringement. The protection of IPR coupled with an effective media campaign can help enhance recognition, thus improving consumer’s confidence in the products or services.

For products that are based on agriculture, or linked to a geographical place of origin that influences the characteristics/quality: there are special IPRs that enable you to inform consumers abroad, bolstering your reputation and market access. This is what farm products like Ninh Thuan dragon-fruit or Luc Ngan litchi have successfully done in Australia.

Before granting others abroad the right to sell your product/services (franchise), be sure that your company is the owner of such IPR, and understand regulations on IPR of the other country on these issues.

It is hoped that my sharing not only helps readers understand more about the living circumstances of Vietnamese people in Australia, but also gives an answer to my friends in Vietnam – those enterprises still hesitant to ship products to Australia – in knowing how to prepare for entering another country like Australia. It is expected such enterprises also help bringing springtime flavors to those people living far away from the homeland like myself, so that I can say to my mother: “Mum, this spring I cannot return, but I still conserve the native springtime flavor.”

(*) CEO, Maygust Trademark Attorneys

(1) https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-statistics/statistics/country-profiles/profiles/vietnam

(2) https://www.education.gov.au/international-education-data-and-research/international-student-numbers-country-state-and-territory

(3) https://www.smh.com.au/national/we-had-nothing-to-lose-no-pride-no-ego-why-these-20-somethings-became-mayors-20220922-p5bk9n.html

(4) https://welc.wipo.int/dl730/DL730_10_Things_About_IP_and_Exports.pdf

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