The European Parliament’s International Trade Committee (INTA) organised a workshop on “Tailor-made support for SMEs towards effective implementation of the EU’s trade and investment strategy” on 17 February 2016. Roughly 100 attendees - MEPs, their assistants, and other Brussels stakeholders - took part. EEIA had been asked to recommend SMEs that could report on their internationalisation experience. EEIA successfully placed two speakers: Pavla Břečková, Director at Audacio s.r.o., Brno (Czech Republic) and Rafael Hierro Martín, General Manager at IxiaRegal, Junisa, Unimasa from Alicante (Spain).
INTA Chair Bernd Lange opened the hearing by stressing the importance of SMEs for the European economy, accounting for 99.8% of EU enterprises in the non-financial sector. They employ nearly 90 million people, representing around 67% of total EU employment. However, only 13% of SMEs are trading outside the EU, a proportion that the EU aims to increase through its new trade strategy. Signe Ratso, representing the European Commission’s DG Trade, explained that SMEs benefit from free trade agreements and that DG Trade includes SME provisions in all negotiations, including current talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Coordination with national trade promotion agencies will be enhanced and the European Commission uses economic diplomacy to encourage synergies between institutions and disciplines. Prof. Robert Blackburn, Director of Small Business Research Center, presented findings of a study on SMEs highlighting that SMEs are net importers in the EU, that most of the SMEs trade within the EU, and that most SMEs that export never use public support. Support infrastructure is greatly fragmented and needs more coordination to help SMEs with their highly differing needs. Dr Ernst Kopp, Director, ‘go international’, Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, and Ralph Lerch, MD and Global Head of Export Finance, Commerzbank AG (Germany), presented how they support SMEs. Both stressed that internationalisation starts at home and then needs professional support in the target market. In their view, the European Commission is helpful in opening up markets in target countries where national delegations may not have the power to do so individually.
Four SME entrepreneurs shared their experience. All speakers mentioned exhibitions as the most important tool for finding customers, understanding trends, innovation and accessing international markets. Italian traditional family bakery Zanella srl. explained how they started working with organic bread and found new markets by attending trade fairs around Europe. Now, they export even to the US, the main difficulty being to comply with all rules in the target markets. Pavla Břečková today employs 100 people in her engineering company, which started as an importer of tech parts and then shifted to become a producer after the Czech Republic joined the EU. She stressed that internationalisation requires strong personal relationships, which she found on trade fairs although in her case they did not work for selling. She works in a cluster and is part of an incubator group to access the US market. Rafael Hierro Martín also started as an importer of household goods, gifts and toys, now he manufactures in Asia and Europe and sells mostly within Europe but more and more in South America and Australia. He uses trade fairs to expand his client base and has never used any support scheme. The fourth SME testimonial, Lindy Elektronik GmbH from Germany, also began as an import company and set up exportation through personal links into countries like UK, Italy and Taiwan. For the electronics sector, ever-changing norms and standards represent a big challenge. None of the four companies had ever used public support schemes.
During the discussion, the Commission acknowledged that better coordination between tools and services are a priority and that trade fairs are clearly a useful tool, supported by both member states and EU funds. Non-tariff barriers need to be addressed, and importation should be further recognised as a useful step towards internationalisation. A representative from Eurochambres mentioned that national Chambers of Commerce are usually the first information point for SMEs. Barbara Weizsäcker, EEIA, highlighted the fact that 90% of leading international exhibitions take place in Europe and that these are a perfect starting point for internationalisation. Bernd Lange, MEP, agreed on the need to avoid duplications in structures and programmes. Tiziana Beghin, MEP, summed up the findings of the workshop and concluded that there is full political agreement on the need to support SMEs. SMEs also need to be protected, have better access to anti-dumping instruments and participate in trade that creates wealth and prosperity.
“Exhibitions play a leading role for the SMEs who reported their stories in this meeting and were recognised in the academic study as well as by the European Commission and the European Parliament. The EEIA’s contribution to this event greatly improved the visibility and recognition of both the value of trade fairs and the European Exhibition Industry Alliance”, says Barbara Weizsäcker, EEIA Secretary General.
The European Exhibition Industry Alliance represents over 400 exhibition organisers and venue operators in Europe. These are organised in UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry and the European Major Exhibition Centres Association EMECA.
For more information please visit www.exhibition-alliance.eu www.ufi.org www.emeca.eu