Bulk of exporting firms still 'not ready for Brexit'
The head of Enterprise Ireland has said she has no cause for optimism over Brexit as a new survey suggests the majority of exporting firms still aren't preparing for the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
Julie Sinnamon said firms have been in denial, and warned that they must start planning for a hard Brexit. She said the Brexit impact here is the most significant change for businesses ever seen, and signalled that European state aid rules may need to be relaxed to help struggling firms.
"I have no reason for optimism," Ms Sinnamon said. "I think there is so much up in the air, and there are positions being taken by people. I don't have any warm feeling that it will be alright on the night and we should just forget about this.
"I actually think that we absolutely need to plan for a hard Brexit and we don't know where it will end up."
Ms Sinnamon told the Irish Independent earlier in the year that with the triggering of Article 50 last March, businesses were beginning to wake up to the reality that Brexit was going to happen.
But a survey released by the state agency yesterday shows that the numbers putting preparations in place are in the minority. The survey found that in the last six months, just 38pc have taken measures to respond to Brexit, with 62pc doing nothing.
"It [the figure] probably is lower than I expected, just from the level of engagement that we've had," Ms Sinnamon said.
Exporters have been the early casualties of the Brexit vote, due to sterling's immediate, and dramatic, devaluation in the wake of the referendum last June. Although it had settled around the 85p mark to the euro, it moved above 90p in recent weeks heaping further pressure on those selling into the UK market, including the farming community, and the tourist and hospitality sector here. Yesterday €1 was equal to 91 pence.
Ms Sinnamon said the renewed pressure on sterling will have helped push businesses into getting Brexit-ready. "I do think that in the last month or six weeks it [preparation] really has accelerated. Initially, companies were probably in denial. Now companies recognise that this is going to happen, and they have to take steps."
Ms Sinnamon was speaking on the margins of the first day of Enterprise Ireland's International Markets Week, in which the agency's senior advisers from around the world return home for a focused event at the RDS designed to help exporting firms break into new markets. She told those attending that the currency weakness was "not a blip".
"We really see that the Brexit impact in Ireland is the most significant change for Irish business that we have probably ever seen"
She suggested European state aid rules should be relaxed to allow supports to be provided to businesses.
"In previous crises, there was a relaxation of state aid. We need to have discussions in order to make sure that we aren't disadvantaging our clients," she said.
The survey, of more than 400 Enterprise Ireland clients, found that 65pc of those who are not yet exporting to the eurozone plan to enter the market in the next 12 months.
Another key finding is that some 44pc consider the eurozone to be one of the main target regions for their business, with 30pc selecting North America and 15pc Asia Pacific.