France is now Ireland’s closest neighbour in the European Union and its market offers the ideal environment for Irish investors – in terms of size, investment inflow and competitive landscape.
The country boasts the presence of large indigenous companies across multiple sectors along with a high number of decision centres for multinational companies, which are very much aligned with Irish capabilities.
For the second consecutive year, France is Europe’s number one destination for foreign direct investment with 23 important new projects announced weekly throughout 2020.
These opportunities add to the huge €100bn investment envelope made available by the French government for post-Covid economic recovery to be spent in areas such as sustainability, infrastructure and digital transformation.
It represents a big and vibrant market on our doorstep, and our relationship with the French has always been healthy and filled with mutual respect, so there is huge scope.
However, while people often think of Paris when they consider doing business in France, Lyon is regarded as the most ‘business-friendly’ city here.
It has a fantastic geographical position, being bordered by both Switzerland and Italy, and is serviced with a highly developed infrastructure for air, rail, road, and river transport.
In addition, the region has many similarities with Ireland, including its size, industrial ecosystem and many SMEs are also family-owned businesses.
The fact that several Irish companies have already set up businesses in this area is indicative of the potential the region represents – and some of the Irish players who have substantial presence in the region include Life Scientific, Amarenco, Kingspan, Icon, Smurfit Kappa, Grant Engineering and Tricel.
As the second strongest economic region of the country, Lyon is the birthplace of life sciences in France and is home to some of the biggest names in the industry such as Sanofi Pasteur; Boehringer Ingleheim; Medtronic and BioMérieux.
It is also the top vaccine production centre in the world and is recognised as a benchmark region in immunology, infectious diseases, diagnostics, and veterinary health.
Being one of Europe’s most important clean technology development regions, it allocates more money to renewable energy than any other region of France, making it a place of great business opportunity for testing innovative environmental solutions in energy transition and efficiency, mobility of the future and circular economy.
In addition, it is France’s top industrial region with strong players in metallurgy, chemicals, automotive, plastics and precision engineering and there is a dense network of industrial corporations, SMEs, and innovative start-ups.
Of course, the pandemic has had an impact, which can be seen in the dramatic drop in GDP of 8.3pc, the largest ever measured here.
But while 320,000 jobs have been lost, this figure is considerably lower than the 600,000 job losses which were predicted last year and is a result of the massive take-up of the partial unemployment measures put in place and also the much stronger performance of the economy in the last quarter of 2020.
Overall, French purchasing power did not suffer from the pandemic, and in fact, the French people have saved an extra €111 billion in comparison to 2019.
So, there is hope on the horizon and I would encourage Irish companies to seriously look at the French market as a territory offering great opportunities for those who want to grow their export sales.
The ‘Irish friendly’ environment, which is very prevalent here, should be taken advantage of.
If you are thinking of doing business in France, invest some time in research as the French market requires some investment at the start, and it can take time to get a foothold, but once in, you will find a favourable and loyal business environment.
However, don’t underestimate the need to be formal at the beginning of a business relationship and try to speak some French, even a basic ‘Bonjour’ – and when speaking in English, pay attention to speaking clearly, simply, and slowly to get your message across. Bonne Chance.
Claire Mercier Tobin, is manager of Enterprise Ireland’s Lyon office and Senior Market Adviser at the organisation.
This Friday, May 28 at 8am, Enterprise Ireland and The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) will host the first in a series of virtual webinars that will explore the untapped opportunities for Irish businesses within Europe.
The webinar series, entitled ‘Europe is our Future – the Untapped Potential of the Single Market for Irish Enterprise’, will focus on the growth opportunities for Irish companies in Europe and reaping the benefits of the biggest free trade agreement in the world.
Registration can be accessed at: