Irish companies show impressive flexibility with diversification to Europe

One of the challenges we face in growing our economy is the limited
size of our domestic market. Ireland’s entry into the then EEC in 1973,
and subsequent adoption of the euro in 2002, opened the door to a large
and developed marketplace. As the EU has progressed and expanded the
four freedoms – goods, services, people and capital – the eurozone has
effectively become an expanded domestic market of 340 million people.

Irish
exporters have traditionally been heavily dependent on the UK and, to
this end, for over a decade Enterprise Ireland has pursued a
diversification strategy to alleviate this dependency – not by reducing
exports to the UK, but by increasing exports faster to other markets.

In the last 10 years, this dependency
has reduced from 42pc to 31pc of exports, with the eurozone being a key
element of this diversification strategy, the need for which has been
accelerated by Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland’s eurozone
strategy focuses on our six largest markets in thecurrency bloc – The
Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain. The strategy
takes a two-pronged approach – increasing the number of new exporters to
the eurozone (Eurozone Start) and increasing the scale of current
exporters (Eurozone Scale).

The sheer scale of the eurozone
market and Ireland’s relatively low level of exports to this market
underline the untapped potential. In 2019, Enterprise Ireland client
companies exported €7.9bn of products and services to the UK which has a
market population of 66 million, and just €5.65bn to the eurozone.

If Irish companies were to export the
same per head of population to the eurozone market of 340 million
people as they do to the UK, exports would be in the order of €40bn – so
this tells us the size of the potential.

But although they are currently at
€5.65bn, exports to the eurozone have grown by 15pc and this now
represent 22pc of Irish exports, up from 20pc in 2018. And since 2009,
exports to the eurozone have more than doubled, increasing by €3bn, with
non-food exports performing particularly well in 2019 – growing by
25pc. The sectors which contributed most to this growth were:
construction – which grew by an enormous 89pc, electronics – with 42pc
growth, and digital technologies – which grew by 21pc.

One of the objectives of Enterprise
Ireland’s eurozone strategy was to exceed €1bn in exports to three
markets by 2020 and this was achieved in 2019 when The Netherlands grew
by a huge 35pc to €1.4bn, Germany grew by 16pc to €1.3bn and France,
which grew by 3pc to €1bn. In addition, Spain delivered growth of 11pc,
Italy 7pc and Belgium 4pc.ADVERTISEMENT  Learn more

This performance demonstrates the
capability of Enterprise Ireland client companies to recognise and take
advantage of opportunities and adapt their products and strategies to
pivot into new markets.

Thanks to committed Irish companies,
products and services from Ireland have a strong reputation across
Europe. They are particularly recognised by their flexibility and
ability to adapt to suit their customers as well as their high level of
innovation.

Companies such as Cubic Telecom, a
digital technology company which sells into the automotive industry, E+I
Engineering, experts in global power distribution and Mercury, which
builds and manage complex engineering projects, are just three of our
900 client companies who are exporting successfully to the eurozone.

Of course, Covid-19 and Brexit, have
presented significant challenges for Irish businesses and the Irish
economy. But as exporters, we need to engage with clients beyond the
island of Ireland.

Never has it been more important to
look to Europe as this represents a large, developed economy and a
relatively stable political environment on our doorstep. And with the
added benefits of a single currency, no tariffs, customs, or borders and
increasing regulatory alignment, it is effectively an expansion of our
domestic market. And thanks to our reputation, Europe has opened the
door wide.

So by delivering on eurozone growth,
Irish companies are proving their ability to adapt and pivot towards new
opportunities and this ability will stand them in good stead in working
through the current crisis.

Now is the time to put our foot to the pedal and drive our exports into markets which are looking for ‘locally-made in the eurozone’ products and services.Anne Lanigan is Regional Director – Eurozone for Enterprise Ireland.

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