It's time to tap into potential of €38bn eurozone export market
More than four out of five companies backed by Enterprise Ireland (EI) plan to diversify exports into new markets.
That insight emerged from a survey of 650 companies at EI's International Markets Week (IMW) in October.
When Ireland joined the euro in 2002, it created an unprecedented opportunity to extend our domestic market into the single market with zero currency risk. Yet it also represents a largely untapped potential export market for Irish companies. While its population of 340 million is five times the UK's, Irish exports to the eurozone are 40pc lower than those to the UK.
If Ireland increased exports per head of population to equal those to the UK, our eurozone exports would reach €38bn. The stability offered by a shared currency, mutually recognised standards and minimal customs bureaucracy are some of the advantages that should encourage Irish companies to build scale and expand reach in the eurozone.
Economic indicators also look bright. Over the next two years, unemployment is forecast to decrease, as growth rates are expected to stand at 2pc in the eurozone. Brexit has raised Ireland's profile internationally, which, when combined with our recognised commitment to the EU and growing reputation for flexibility and innovation, means that our companies encounter strong positive sentiment across Europe.
Germany and Austria are a good example of what the market offers. They has a combined population of 92 million, and EI-backed companies export €1.1bn there, compared to €7.6bn to the UK's market of 66 million people.
Combilift, the long-load material-handling solution, cracked the German market, crediting its analytical mindset and openness to innovative products, in addition to R&D supports and introductions to distributors provided by EI.
There are signs that other Irish exporters will follow, with almost half of the companies surveyed at IMW identifying the eurozone as a region they aim to expand into.
EI is committed to helping companies break into the market.
Our sectorally-led #IrishAdvantage digital platform promotes exporters to international buyers in five European languages.
This year, IMW hosted a dedicated eurozone area for the first time, where advisers consulted on how best to enter and build exports in the core markets of Germany, France, Benelux, Italy and Spain.
Throughout the year, EI's six offices in the eurozone deliver a one-to-one service, assisting companies with advice and support on developing business in their markets, while our Market Research Centre provides detailed market intelligence.
Financial supports include our Be Prepared Grant, which can be used for research, consultancy support and language training.
Our GradStart programme offers 70pc support for graduates with a foreign language, while our Market Discovery Grant offers funding of up to €150,000 to enter new markets.
Irish companies are making excellent use of these supports.
Grant Engineering employs 320, with operations accounting for more than half of the UK oil boiler market. In the wake of the Brexit vote, Grant focused on developing export markets.
After attending a French trade show, it availed of our Business Accelerator initiative, which helps companies to retain the services of an in-country expert. The connection helped Grant to source two French specialists with a combined 40 years of industry experience, while a Market Access Grant enabled their product to be localised for France.
Once you gain a foothold in a eurozone market, it is easier to expand to neighbouring ones. Companies interested in exporting to the eurozone can attend EI's Ambition Benelux event on November 9 and Ambition Germany on December 7.
For 16 years we've been sitting on the sidelines. Now is the time to take action and seize the opportunity that the eurozone presents.
- Anne Lanigan is regional director for the eurozone at Enterprise Ireland.
Sunday Indo Business