Canada is the second-largest country in the world. It has 10 provinces and three territories, so companies approaching the market often have to think region by region when sourcing distribution, identifying partners, winning customers and setting-up beachhead sales operations.
Doing this in-person has always been a challenge, given the scale of the territory, but the current reliance on virtual meetings as a result of Covid has created more of a level playing field for companies outside Canada exploring new commercial relationships. The move to remote working and distributed teams has pushed businesses to consider solutions from providers who they will engage online from start to finish.
Another area of opportunity has been the pivot to a virtual presence for many of the leading trade events held in Canada each year. While they vary in format and cost, these (online) events have reduced the barriers for Irish companies who are interested in learning more about trends and opportunities. This has always been challenging to do on a coast-to-coast basis, due to Canada's sheer size.
However, there have been some challenges throughout the pandemic, including not being able to visit the market, attend trade events or meet with customers.
And another negative effect of Covid-19 has been that some pending projects were put on hold as companies reacted to the uncertainty. However, we have since seen these projects reignite in recent months as business priorities have shifted from crisis management or remote working challenges to an acceleration in digitalisation and to providing better experiences for customers and employees.
Equally, the manufacturing sector and supply chains have generally met the challenges of the current crisis, and like many markets, these hurdles have accelerated change in some areas with companies and industries adopting new technologies. This has presented an opportunity for many Irish companies which offer innovative solutions in areas such as cybersecurity, remote working enablement and digital health.
In addition, Canada recently announced investment of C$10bn (€6.45bn) in infrastructure projects through the Canadian Investment Bank. This comprises areas such as energy, agricultural irrigation, connectivity, zero-emission buses, early construction works and building energy efficiency.
Canada is officially a bilingual country, which means many products and services must offer English and French to participate in procurement or Request for Proposal processes - for example there are strict bilingual labelling requirements across the country which are not just confined to French-speaking Quebec.
To assist Irish companies doing business in the region and to promote awareness of the market opportunities which exist in Quebec, Enterprise Ireland has recently opened an office in Montreal.
While Canada is often seen as an excellent proving ground and valuable reference site for the wider North American market, it is crucial to display knowledge and responsiveness to the distinct needs of Canadian customers, local regulatory requirements and differences in business practice. This is something which definitely applies to the complex, multi-stakeholder buying processes we see in the Healthcare and Telco sectors.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU also reduces friction for Irish companies doing business in Canada as 99pc of tariffs no longer apply for physical goods, which is a real cost saving for the apparel, engineering and construction sectors, for example. This deal recently celebrated its third birthday and has been a positive factor for Irish companies looking at diversifying their markets.
Canadians prefer to work with companies that have already established a presence here, so demonstrating that can be an important way to gain trust and to reassure potential customers of the availability of your on-going support.
Overall, it is a welcoming country when it comes to entrepreneurs, investors, and talent, including from Ireland. As a result, Canada is attracting significant business to tech hubs such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. During Covid-19, this may mean establishing a virtual presence and hiring locally,but this is readily possible given the ease of set-up in Canada.
Sunday Indo Business