Irish expertise is well regarded in important Benelux market
It is the kind of market access that companies dream of: 200 million potential customers within just 800km. That is the potential offered by the Benelux region. As a gateway to continental Europe, it is home to some of the world's biggest and most efficient ports and offers Irish companies access to opportunities across the eurozone.
Two events in November, organised by Enterprise Ireland, aimed to encourage companies to take advantage of these opportunities.
Significant partnerships between Irish and Dutch companies were also announced during a trade mission held on November 23.
Costo, a Dutch leader in warehousing and distribution, announced the adoption of technology developed by Irish company Eiratech Robotics to optimise its logistics processes. It will use Eiratech's Eirabot to multiply the number of orders picked per hour, essential when consumers expect online orders to be delivered within 24 hours.
With one in 12 of the Benelux population working in logistics, the partnership demonstrates the strong cultural fit between Dutch and Irish companies.
In the life sciences sector, CapX Netherlands, Avics and Corning are partnering with Irish mobile network specialists Druid Software to deliver scalable, safe, and future-proofed wireless technology.
Enterprise Ireland's Ambition Benelux event focused on supporting Irish exporters to identify challenges and develop strategies to succeed in the region. It was the latest in a series of workshops highlighting key eurozone markets.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg offer lucrative individual markets, but as a hub the region is attractive to Irish companies in search of a post-Brexit springboard to new markets. Eiratech Robotics's Dutch partnership will enhance its ability to target opportunities in Germany, for example.
Ireland has an excellent trading relationship with all three countries, with Belgium ranking as Ireland's second largest EU partner in terms of exports. Irish exports to Belgium have grown year-on-year, with a value of €12.04bn for 2017.
Belgium offers far more than market access. Like Ireland, it punches above its weight in life sciences, pharma and medtech with the potential for partnerships between companies in the two countries.
Representing only 3pc of the EU economy, Belgium is home to 16pc of Europe's biotech industry and 14pc of its pharmaceutical exports.
The Netherlands too offers a developed market driven by a highly-skilled workforce. In both, integrating your business, be it through a branch, agent or distributor partner, is simplified by ease of company registration and the population's high fluency in English.
The economy in the Netherlands remains dynamic, with growth expected to reach 3pc in 2019 and unemployment standing at just under 4pc. Attendees at Ambition Benelux heard that growth is creating demand for skills in IT contracting, data centre construction and cleantech builds, a good fit for the strengths of Irish exporters.
Irish construction firms have earned a reputation with the Dutch for expertise in these areas. With growth in data centre demand rising 18pc year-on-year, there are attractive opportunities for Irish companies, including project management.
While Luxembourg is the smallest Benelux country, its location and reputation as a financial services sector means it ranks as the world's third most globalised economy, not only the European leader in managed assets, but also the second globally. With the highest GDP per capita in Europe, and third globally, it is uniquely placed for high-end retailers looking to enter the market.
Entering new markets requires support. Enterprise Ireland's Benelux office offers access to a network of contacts, market research and advice. Exporters taking the plunge will soon realise the value of the Dutch expression for making a deal: 'Let's make land together!'
Patrick Torrekens is head of Enterprise Ireland Benelux
Sunday Indo Business