Enterprise Ireland unveiled its eurozone strategy yesterday, dividing 600 of its clients into two groups that will provide grants, marketing, training, and support for UK market-reliant companies to target new trade markets in the EU.
Half of the companies are designated as ‘eurozone start’, which are relatively new to the market and who are heavily reliant on the UK, while the remainder are ‘eurozone scale’, which are already exporting to Europe.
Enterprise Ireland’s annual report showed export growth to the UK, which accounted for €7.5bn of exports, slowed from 12% in 2015 to 2% in 2016. The fall was largely due to a decline in food exports, it said.
Despite the UK slowdown, Enterprise Ireland client company exports rose to €21.6bn globally, a 6% rise on 2015.
Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon said: “Companies cannot afford to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude. They must act now. While diversifying from the UK might have been a desirable objective for Irish companies in the past, Brexit means that it is now an urgent imperative.”
On the new eurozone strategy, she said: “We have to work on the basis that Brexit will create new barriers to Irish trade with the UK. On the other hand, eurozone markets can provide currency stability, proximity and potential for growth and opportunities for Irish companies.”
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (ISME) said it was a welcome measure but that it should be replicated as Government policy.
ISME CEO Neil McDonnell said: “From our point of view — and this is far from being a criticism of Enterprise Ireland, who only represent their own client companies — there are 100,000 companies in Ireland with 200 employees or less.
“What we are saying is the Government has focused on foreign direct investment despite the face that SMEs are facing a huge threat from Brexit in the east and uncertain US policy in the west. Ireland Inc is worthy of focus on a macro level.”
Mr McDonnell said Revenue’s own figures pointed to the value of the SME sector in Ireland, adding: “The country would be really hurt if the SME sector was hit by a big case of the flu.”
Enterprise Ireland’s said its new eurozone strategy to assist companies was aiming to increase trade in the EU by 50% before 2020.