New European trade strategy will support Irish business to diversify, compete and remain resilient – Chambers Ireland calls for National Action Plan to Support SMEs to Trade Globally

Chambers Ireland has today (18 February 2021) welcomed the newly published EU Trade Strategy. Chambers Ireland commends the Commission’s strong emphasis on empowering SMEs to trade internationally, along with the commitment to do more to enforce trade rules.

Speaking today, Chambers Ireland Chief Executive Ian Talbot said,

“The strategic priorities of our own submission to the European Commission called for new EU trade agreements to prioritise SME-friendly access, therefore the SME-focus of today’s strategy is extremely welcome.

Trade and exports have never been more important for the Irish economy. We saw evidence of this throughout the last recession, when exports helped to stabilise the economy while domestic demand remained weak. This remains the case, where over the past twelve months, exports have also supported the Irish economy through the negative economic impacts of COVID-19.

However, we must ensure that the commitments in the European strategy are delivered on at member-state level. In implementing the Commission’s new Trade Strategy, we call on Government to publish a National Action Plan for Trade. This plan should also include an awareness-building campaign to improve the capacity of SMEs to engage with EU Free Trade Agreements.

While large multi-national companies have proven to be extremely capable when it comes to global trade, the same cannot be said for smaller Irish businesses. While making up more than 99.7% of businesses, less than 6.3% of SMEs export anything, putting Ireland at the lowest level among all 36 OECD members. If we are to make positive changes, at a minimum, we must do more to improve SME trade within the Single Market and boost investment and capacity of programmes like the Enterprise Europe Network. Improving the trading performance of SMEs will be critical if we are to increase the productivity and competitiveness of these enterprises.

Beyond the Single Market, we must be more ambitious when it comes to global trade. From our experience with Brexit, we have a big opportunity to learn from these lessons. For example, to prepare Irish businesses for the UK’s exit from the EU, Government successfully introduced customs-support grants, rolled out national training programmes and promoted awareness raising campaigns on issues relating to trade with the UK. The same commitment and resources should be given to supporting Irish SMEs to learn to trade with other FTA partner countries, such as Japan and Canada.

Finally, the Commission’s continued commitment to rules-based global trade is welcome. As an open export-orientated economy, Ireland relies on strong rules-based structures which aim to limit the impacts of protectionism. In a post-Brexit environment, these global multilateral structures are even more important.”