Wednesday 16 January 2019

SME Advice: 'Germany can offer Irish firms a chance to diversify'

The eurozone powerhouse is a land of opportunity for exporters, writes Pat Breen

Pat Breen is Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protectiony
Pat Breen is Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protectiony

It's hard to imagine but there was a time when conversations around trade and business did not include references, pointed or otherwise, to Brexit.

Its impact on how we conduct business cannot be underestimated. And if ever Irish businesses needed to consider the value of diversifying their market strategy then that time, quite frankly, is now.

While it is true that our nearest neighbour still accounts more than a third of our exports - bilateral trade between Ireland the UK is worth around €1bn a week in goods and services - Irish firms looking to secure a healthy future beyond these shores should consider the large eurozone family of economies with which we will still be able to enjoy frictionless trade.

Perhaps it is the cultural ease in doing business with the UK that limits some of our thinking, but within the eurozone we have potential markets which are worth around €38bn.

And the biggest of these is, of course, the world's fourth-largest economy, and largest in the EU - Germany.

We already enjoy healthy links, both in trade and culturally, with our German counterparts. Bilateral trade between our two countries is worth around €39bn annually, Germany is our third largest tourist sector and thanks to our links in life sciences, medtech and bio-pharmaceuticals, Germany is our second largest source of Foreign Direct Investment.

With German growth at its highest for five years at around 2pc, it is clear that it remains the stable option for planning market diversification given the immediate uncertainty surrounding Brexit and our traditional trade partner.

Just last month I led a trade mission of 34 Irish companies, old and new, who were looking to showcase the best of our innovation at the world-renowned Medica and Eurotier trade fairs, leading events for medtech and agritech respectively.

As part of our long-term vision for securing trade, Enterprise Ireland has been targeting its resources with a Brexit response which aims to accelerate exports to Europe by 50pc by 2020.

Germany is a key export market for Ireland. It offers substantial growth opportunities and potential for increased collaboration in the agritech and medtech sectors for innovative and ambitious Irish companies.

Our trade visit provided a valuable opportunity for the participating Irish companies to present their innovative solutions to buyers and potential partners attending these huge fairs - Medica in Düsseldorf and Eurotier in Hannover.

The Irish firms presented technology solutions in the areas of electromedicine, laboratory medicine, medical technology and diagnostics to potential buyers.

Our expertise in agriculture highlighted technologies for successfully combining productivity and animal welfare, as well as information management and sustainable use of natural resources.

These huge fairs saw Irish business exposed to the hundreds of thousands of visitors. But building our trade will require more.

A growth in exports of medtech and agritech products and services to Germany is part of Enterprise Ireland's strategy to support clients to deliver 60,000 new jobs, increase exports to the eurozone by 50pc and add an additional €5bn in exports from 2017 to 2020.

That's why this month our Ambition Germany event saw Enterprise Ireland host a one-day event for Irish firms looking to get boots on the ground.

It offered first-hand accounts from industry peers who already made the leap before Brexit entered our lexicon and from experts on taking those first steps into new markets.

If Irish firms are to scale beyond these shores, they need to seriously think about one of the largest markets we will have unfettered access to.

Irish companies don't have to put a finger into the wind and do it alone. Enterprise Ireland helped 89 Irish firms enter the eurozone market for the first time last year. From market research to networking and supports worth up to €150,000, we are planning for a post-Brexit environment. And Irish companies should plan to do so too.

  • Pat Breen is Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection

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