The 2013/02/08 at 08:12
Valérie Demon, in Madrid
In the face of a domestic market that has been sluggish for the last few years, businesses are looking to export for their futures. It’s a matter of survival and development, as the Spanish Secretary of State for Trade has grasped, now turning attention to SMEs in a country where 8 % of businesses account for 68 % of the export of goods. Since the arrival of the new Popular Party in December 2011, export and financial support programmes for SMEs have been reinforced.
Since March 2012, the Spanish Foreign Trade Institute (ICEX) has launched the new ICEX Next plan to consolidate SMEs on their path towards export. “This is the heir to the PIPE programme, launched in 197, that already took care of advising businesses. ICEX Next deepens this work and develops specialisations,” explains Isaac Martín Barbero, ICEX’s Director General in charge of Globalisation. ICEX, for example, gives SMEs access to expert advice. Consultants are also available in export countries. Chile, Colombia and Ecuador are the first countries to be targeted. “We realised that initiation of an SME to export is important, but also its consolidation on its export markets,” declares Isaac Martín Barbedo.
Not only does ICEX seek to enlarge Spain’s exporting base but also increase the added value of exports while geographically diversifying markets. India, China, Russia, the United States and Latin America are amongst the target countries. Out of the 120,000 Spanish businesses that export goods, 40,000 have been doing so regularly in the past four years. “Under the former PIPE programme, aimed at SMEs whose total sales included at least 30 % exports, we succeeded in getting three out of four businesses to continue to export regularly,” specifies Isaac Martín Barbero. Between 2007 and 2011, almost 8,500 businesses went through the PIPE scheme. By the end of 2013, ICEX is aiming to sign up 800 companies for the ICEX Next programme. But ICEX will not be bearing the cost alone: for the 25,000 euros allocated to each SME, half is paid by ICEX and the other by the company.
There has also been a bulking up of financial aids for export. COFIDES, a financial-support company in which three public institutions (ICEX, the Official Credit Institute, and the National Enterprise for Innovation) and three private Spanish banks participate, is in charge of supporting businesses in their overseas development. An extra 45 million euros have been accorded to the two funds managed by COFIDES – FIEX and FONPYME – hence bringing their total up to 800 million euros, despite the fact that the fund did not benefit from any extra endowments between 2008 and 2011. In all, between 2012 and 2015, COFIDES hopes to have a total of 1.5 billion euros at its disposal. “By 2015, we wish to double our support for SMEs,” comments Salvador Marín, President of COFIDES. To reach this goal, several lines of action have been launched.
COFIDES and ICEX have set up the PYME-INVIERTE programme. Endowed with 50 million euros, COFIDES calculates that 80 % of investment for the globalisation of SMEs will be taken care of. “Once ICEX advises the SMEs, files can be handed over to us in a much more fluid manner,” explains Salvador Marín. “The SMEs don’t lose any time. The Secretary of State of Trade is determined to overcome the inertia of each institution, hence this collaboration that resembles a single counter,” continues Isaac Barbero. COFIDES is also scaling down the conditions for access to financing, bringing the minimum amount for an operation down from 250,000 euros to 75,000 euros. “This will mean that no competitive SME will be left out of the procedure,” believes Salvador Marín. Finally, COFIDES is investing in buoyant sectors. One line of credit, Fining, has recently been launched to finance short- and medium-term export projects in the engineering sector. “Our constant concern is SMEs. When a big company seeks out support, we ask them how many small enterprises they can carry along in their project,” adds the President.
While the general strategy has been outlined, institutions know that they will need to do more or better with less. The ICEX budget, for example, has shrunk by 40 % since 2009. “The change in concept resides in more advice, providing support for businesses to manage by themselves subsequently. But they must think about globalisation seriously. They shouldn’t simply embark because the Spanish market is slow. They need to take the plunge because they understand that globalisation is necessary, it’s a long-term challenge,” concludes Isaac Martín Barbero. In any case, players in the sector can be encouraged by the progress of exports in the first 11 months of 2012: + 3.7 %.