Scotland’s strong links with Europe provide export opportunities

Scotland’s strong links with Europe provide export opportunities

Scottish Enterprise’s new ‘Selling into the EU’ online portal will help businesses to market their goods and services to the continent, a step by step guide to taking those first steps.

Scotland has a long and proud history of trading with Europe. From Aberdeen’s connections to the cities of the Hanseatic League through to the wines from Bordeaux that flowed into Leith and the whiskies sent back to France, our nation’s merchants have sold their goods and services to our European neighbours for centuries.

Yet the story of exports isn’t confined to the pages of our history books. Today, the European Union (EU) remains a key trading partner.

Scotland exports £12.3bn of goods and services to the EU each year, accounting for 43% of all our international trade. The total has risen by £520m or 4.4% year-on-year, driven by higher demand for petroleum and chemical products. (source: Export Statistics Scotland)

The Netherlands – which acts as an importer and distribution hub for much of the continent – remains Scotland’s largest trading partner within Europe, buying £2.3bn of goods and services. France takes second spot with £1.8bn of imports, followed by Germany.

Despite the uncertainty created by Brexit, Scottish companies are still presented with a host of opportunities to export to the EU. With 500 million consumers for Scotland’s services and products, Europe will remain a key trading partner once the UK leaves the union.

Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Scottish Development International (SDI), the international arm of Scotland’s economic development agencies have together created “Selling into the EU” – the online portal to both help companies take their first steps on the road to exporting to the EU and to aid businesses that are already trading internationally and want to accelerate their sales growth in EU markets. The portal draws together expert advice from throughout the agencies’ network.

The website contains information to help businesses to create an export plan, guiding them through the steps they need to take and the issues they must consider before starting to trade overseas. The portal begins with the basics – such as the benefits of trading with the EU, how to get ready to export and how to find the right markets – before progressing on through guides to the routes to market, how to visit potential markets and the logistics of getting products to customers.

Other topics covered in the portal include how to set the right prices for services and goods being delivered abroad, help with sales and marketing, and using e-commerce to sell online. Other “cool stuff” available through the portal includes currency converters, shipping cost calculators and EU Country Guides.

Established exporters can use the portal to learn about expanding into further markets, opening regional offices or developing existing markets. The site includes a list of opportunities from other businesses looking for products and services, research material on EU markets, details of customs and regulations, details of financing options and the ability to identify potential agents, buyers and business partners on the continent.

The portal also gives companies access to a series of pre-recorded webinars on key EU markets and topics that matter most.
Online resources such as the webinar videos make the portal a rich source of information and expertise for both fledging and experienced exporters.

One company that’s already reaping the rewards of international trade is Chocolate & Love, the Perth-based food firm that won the micro exporter of the year title at the 2017 HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise. Richard O’Connor founded the business in 2010 and began exporting in 2012.

“Europe was where we started to export and it is still hugely important, accounting for around 30% of export business,” O’Connor explains. “Europe is nearby. Language barriers are easy to overcome, paperwork is relatively straightforward and there are no real cultural hurdles.

“There are differences in how to market between countries within Europe and that’s where knowledgeable distributors really come into play. For example, some European countries are very aware of the fair-trade mark, whereas elsewhere there is more interest in our organic status – or simply in the quality of the taste.

“Finding a distributor is not something to leave to chance. This is a long-term relationship and it makes sense to be pretty deliberate about it.

“To me, finding a distributor is like looking for a marriage partner. You don’t get married to the first girl you kiss. You need to put in time and effort to find a distributor who shares your values and connects with your customers.”

O’Connor adds: “Exhibitions have been excellent places for us to make the right connections and SDI has supported us to attend a wide range of events in Europe and further afield. One thing that we’ve discovered is that it is much better to take the initiative and contact the people that we are interested in working with, rather than waiting for them to come to us. We are choosy about who we partner with, so we have to actively seek out the best distributors to market our products.”

Find out more about selling into the EU and the support available to your company by visiting