What a difference a year makes. Where uncertainty loomed large over whether Brexit would happen, this year brings the certainty of Britain’s departure with an 11-month transition period to negotiate a new free trade agreement with the EU.
According to Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s trade and innovation agency, that certainty should be viewed as an opportunity to look at how the British market will transition and how best to do business in its changing market.
“It’s very interesting that the mood from our clients is a pragmatic approach to addressing the business challenges now that they have the certainty that Brexit will happen, said Deirdre McPartlin, Enterprise Ireland’s country manager for the UK. “Right now, it’s very much about how we move on and how the market will evolve and how we evolve with it.”
Figures show that Britain is still the biggest export market for Enterprise Ireland clients, recording sales of more than €7.9 billion in 2018, an increase of €1.8 billion in ten years and growing by 4 per cent in 2018 in spite of the uncertainty that prevailed. The fastest growing areas were outside of food, a sign that more Irish companies across a broader range of sectors are scaling up and achieving good market penetration in Britain.
“Irish companies who are innovation award winners in their areas of expertise are saying the UK market is still of huge importance and has provided them with the launchpad to grow their businesses as they develop new products and innovate,” said McPartlin.
“As an exporting country, factors like proximity and common language will mean the UK is likely to remain the first export market for the vast majority of Irish companies. We must ensure that new exporters continue to have the confidence that, with the right approach and right offer, they can continue to be successful here.”
Enterprise Ireland has continued to promote the importance of the market, even as Britain officially left the EU last month. McPartlin said they are communicating as much as ever the things needed by companies to confidently and competently succeed in the British market.
“One element is around the mechanics of Brexit and customs which we have been communicating over the last three years. The other critical element is being equipped with insights into how the market operates now, but also how it is likely to or is evolving whether as a result of Brexit or market drivers. (The market that is changing from a legal and regulatory perspective and there are other dynamics that are changing it like digitalisation, demographics etc.)
“Within all of that, what we need to do as an organisation is, of course, address and highlight risk, but also communicate where disruption and change leads to opportunity.”
Opportunity is knocking in the areas of agriculture and infrastructure that shifts the focus to environmental impact. This provides an opportunity to align with new practice and funding incentives in infrastructure, as Britain will now focus on infrastructure projects to “level up” the North of England.
“The UK is also the only large economy that legislated for a zero carbon target by 2050 and already they have developed a major offshore wind sector with additional multi-billion opportunity in new projects,” said McPartlin.
“Enterprise Ireland has 17 market and sector experts on the ground in the UK. As we see new market and sector trends emerge, we will share these so that companies have the most up-to-date information to inform the development of their market strategies.
“I think the sheer proximity of Ireland to the UK and the size and wealth of the UK market makes it a no-brainer for Irish exporters, we are always going to want to trade with the UK,” she said.
“I think we have an opportunity now to identify our advantages for trade with the UK. This includes a common travel area where Irish and UK nationals can move freely between the two countries with ease, our shared language and our proximity. All these factors mean we will be good trading partners for each other.
“The UK is a market in evolution, so for Irish companies this means being ready for the change. However, ready means not just thinking about tariffs and customs, but also looking at how sectors in the UK are changing and how Brexit is changing the landscape. From a trading perspective, we must make it as easy for our UK customers to continue to trade with us and demonstrate our commitment to the market,” said McPartlin.