The events of the last few weeks were, without doubt, a testing time in the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the European Union.
Whilst serious issues around citizens rights and the potential ‘divorce’ bill were being thrashed out, from an Irish perspective, the stumbling block centered around the Irish border. Or rather, the assurance of having a ‘frictionless open border’ as a precondition to Stage 2 of the trade negotiations due to commence next year.
For all concerned, particularly those in business both North and South of the border, close attention was being paid to the stance from both An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the DUP Leader Arlene Foster in what came close to being a very serious ‘stalemate’ in discussions with the British government on the border issue.
With a sense of relief, consensus and an agreement was reached in relation to the ‘no hard border’ issue and, while the negotiating teams from both the EU and the UK begin to sharpen their respective tools prior to the commencement of Stage 2 of the Brexit discussions (re: Trade), it is now a critical time for Irish companies, particularly SME’s to re-evaluate their business objectives with regard to trading with the UK.
Eighteen months on from the Brexit referendum, business support agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and InterTrade Ireland, that now have dedicated ‘Brexit Advisory Units’ to assist businesses to deal with the potential impact of Brexit, still find a very high number of small companies that have not adequately planned (or at least starting to plan) for the impact of Brexit on their business.
Given the continued uncertainty, many companies across a multiple of sectors may rightly ask how they can prepare for such impact on the business when nobody is sure of what will happen/ be negotiated during what will surely be a complex process.
Be that as it may, there are several immediate steps for companies to take – where the UK market is a particularly strong one for them.
If I could some this up in just two words, they would be:
But of course, the burning question is how? How does one prepare?
Below are five areas that Irish companies should now start to look at and create plans to initiate to help them absorb the likely change in this very important trading relationship.
- Back to basics: In short, revisit your business plan/export plan – particularly if either your market research to date or early contract wins point significantly to the UK for your product or service – “what will the impact be on my business from a resource/financial point of view?”
- Diversify: When we talk about market research and when looking to scale your business from beyond our home shores, ask yourself are there opportunities available for my product/service in other international markets – to date and for obvious historic and economic reasons, the UK market with it’s near 65 million of a consumer base has been the closest to us, the easiest to enter and the easiest of markets in which to trade with internationally. Almost all of the international embassies with missions in Ireland have commercial teams/attaches whose brief is to advise Irish companies looking to do business internationally – reach out to these to express interest in other markets of interest.
- Ask for help: Help, advice and support for Irish companies – particularly those small businesses that are now looking to scale – is all around! I referred earlier to agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and Inter Trade Ireland but alongside these are 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEO’s) across Ireland together with membership organisations such as the Chamber of Commerce networks, the Irish Exporters Association etc.
- Keep networking: With the Ireland and UK trading relationship currently standing at €1.2bn a year, the UK market will still be – post Brexit, a very important market for Irish business. In recognition of this strong economical fact, several new and proactive ‘British & Irish Network’ associations have emerged over the past number of years, most significantly, since the historic visit of Queen Elizabeth to Ireland in 2011. Knowledge is King so setting out to obtain key information and current experiences of others can also be of huge help when planning for Brexit. One of the more recent associations in this field is the “British Irish Trade Alliance” which was set up in 2013 in London and Dublin. Think about how to network effectively when gathering as much relevant advice or information as possible.
- Setting up in the UK: It could well be that either your research and analysis determines that for your product/service, the UK represents a high percentage in terms of demand for your business. Or, perhaps where your company is trading heavily with the UK/the UK is the chief export market – ask yourself “is perhaps the time now right for me to establish a presence in the UK?”. Will this prove to be more cost effective to service my British customer/client base from an office location/ production facility in the UK? Again, advice and support is available from the ‘Department of Investment & Trade’ (D.I.T) which has a team of advisers based at the British Embassy in Dublin. As with a similar point raised in “Tip number 2 above, ensure that you avail of the Embassy network that exists to help Irish and British companies to trade with each other.