The 2013/04/10 at 08:10
These days, it's not enough to simply want to export. Who can one turn to for help, when it's not obvious how to find one's way in this domain? Nicole Bricq, French Foreign Trade Minister, understands these difficulties. In a letter dating from March this year, commissioning an assessment of public export aids, she described the system as "hard to read".
Too many tools lacking real utility
Which is the door to knock on when you want to start exporting from France? Ubifrance, Oséo or COFACE? French Chambers of Commerce based overseas? The Invest in France Agency (AFII)? Embassies or trade missions? Or regional authorities including the Regional Directorates of Enterprises, Competition, Consumption, Work and Employment (DIRECCTE)? The list of offices offering aids to export is long and dense.
The difficulty also lies in the disparate forms in which support comes. On national, regional or local levels, some provide training, others provide connections, still others offer insurance or financing. Aid also comes in logistical or human form, for example the organisation of overseas trade fairs offered by Ubifrance, or jobs available for Volunteers for International Experience (VIE) expected to progress by 25 % for 2015.
The panoply of players is such that enterprises have trouble getting their bearings. In February this year, an IFOP survey carried out on behalf of the Opérateurs Spécialisés du Commerce International (OSCI or Operators Specialised in International Trade) sounded an alarm. The survey indicated that 66 % of company heads consider the system "fairly or completely unclear and incomprehensible", and 61 % describe it as "fairly or completely inefficient". Only one company head out of five declares to have found aid towards export, with the others managing by themselves. "It is the most experienced and most effective companies, export-wise, that use the schemes the most, as opposed to first-time exporters or occasional exporters," notes the OSCI. According to a report established by the French Auditor General (Cour des Comptes) from 2011, only 10 to15 % of exporter companies benefited from public support from 2005 to 2009.
It is therefore urgent that this aid be optimised and made accessible. All the more as exporting is an expensive activity and time lapses are long between initial contact and the first order. The stakes are high, for if the target set by the government for foreign trade (outside of energy) is a zero deficit for 2017, Nicole Bricq needs to turn the trend around. Export needs to yield 20 to 25 billion euros. So on top of targeted efforts, for example in aeronautics or the food industry, or work underway on introducing a made-in-France label, this means going and finding SMEs and intermediate-sized enterprises, convincing them of the importance of going international, so lifting their number and turnovers on global markets.
Rebecoming an export nation
The idea in commissioning the audit conducted by Alain Bentejac, Co-Chairman of Artelia, and Jacques Desponts, formerly with BNP Paribas, accompanied by various company heads, is also to change mindsets. "The objective of this mission is to avoid having the effects of competition winning over the logic of coordination, pooling and complementariness," specified Nicole Bricq when launching the mission. The ministerial cabinet explains that the project aims to "allow different players intervening in this domain to work together better".
So what can be done to stop bodies from working in a disjointed manner? How can they be organised to play as a team? The future Banque Publique d’Investissement (Public Investment Bank) is to gather together the financial support currently distributed by Oséo and COFACE. Its first export chargé d'affaires has started offering services in the Pays de Loire region, providing advice and developing "personalised support for international dealings", as the Minister "is also counting heavily on the capacity of regions to detect our future export champions in territories". In the long term, 1,000 intermediate-sized enterprises and SMEs stand to gain, with the dispatching of regional chargés d'affaires.
Beyond these developments, how can the system of identifying promising markets overseas work more smoothly with the upstream efforts in France of professional streams or sectors, and regional authorities? Above all, how can the user, namely the head of an SME or intermediate-sized enterprise, be placed at the centre of everything? Can the idea of a "one-stop shop" make further headway? These are fundamental questions that are to be answered by the audit, whose report is to be taken into consideration in the framework of the meeting of the French Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Modernisation of Public Action (CIMAP) , at the start of July.