30 years after the pilot initiative, EU Gateway | Business Avenues has proved to be a reliable instrument to support thousands of European companies establish long-lasting business collaborations in Asia. The Programme, implemented and managed by the Service for Foreign Policy Instruments under the Partnership Instrument, has been active in the Republic of Korea, South East Asia, Japan, and China between 2016 to 2020.
In this 5-year timeframe, 53 EU-funded business missions to Asia have been organized to gradually help European companies either set foot or consolidate their businesses in Asia in crucial sectors for the EU: a greener economy, a healthier population, and a smarter, digital world.
Each mission consistently brought selected companies a solid pipeline of new partnerships and deals from newly encountered clients in Asia. This was made possible by professional support provided by the Programme staff to the European companies at every step of their expansion process into the target markets. Strategic and logistic services funded by the EU included:
- Tailored coaching and preparation on business culture and opportunities in the target markets
- Scheduling of individual B2B meetings with Asian companies
- Advice on legal issues, certification, and intellectual property rights
- Logistical support for the business exhibitions in Asia, including a booth at the EU pavilion
- Interpretation services
- Targeted promotion in Asia
- Networking events hosted by the EU Delegation, to facilitate dialogue with the Asian business communities
Understandably, the Programme’s popularity and inarguable value pulled in significant interest and thousands of applications from European companies hoping to be selected for a mission. 9,590 expressions of interest were sent to EU Gateway | Business Avenues. European companies applied on a competitive basis, and 2,238 were chosen for their high potential and innovation to participate to one or more missions. Transparent eligibility criteria and the independent selection procedure ensured those companies with the highest potential for establishing new business cooperations were selected. The Programme supported newcomers and established European businesses alike, from family-owned companies, to small and medium enterprises, coming from all EU Member States:
For over the thousands participating European companies, being logistically and financially backed by the Programme meant they could leverage the renown and prestige of the EU in the talks with their Asian counterparts. The state-of-the-art European products and services showcased throughout the exhibitions attracted more than 38,000 Asian buyers who visited the EU pavilions looking to secure partnerships or to make investments in worthwhile opportunities made in Europe.
Tens of thousands of B2B meetings between the European companies and the Asian representatives took place over the course of the business missions —24,014 meetings were pre-arranged by the Programme staff before the start of the business missions, and 27,258 meetings were deemed useful overall. 92% of the participating companies were satisfied with the Programme, and 98% would apply again to this EU-funded initiative.
Companies also enjoyed the possibility of attending networking events with high-level Asian stakeholders hosted by the EU Delegations in Asia — 44 of the business missions had 5,779 esteemed Asian guests interact and continue discussing exclusive business agreements with participants from Europe.
The results tallied between 2016 and 2019 already show an incredibly positive trend:
- Many companies supplemented their staff base in Europe to cover the growing business operations in Asia — 5016 new jobs were created for this within one year from the mission.
- 57% of respondents declared they had either concluded new sales or signed business contracts or were expecting to do so shortly after they participated in a mission.
The Programme has supported participating companies not only after their selection, but during each step of the EU Gateway | Business Avenues methodology. It all began with an extensive outreach campaign across Europe, to ensure all potentially interested and relevant companies were made aware of this EU-funded initiative. During each following step – from application to follow-up after the business mission – companies have been constantly supported to their fullest potential.
Every individual business mission was the foundation of long-lasting ties between European and Asian companies in each of the sectors the programme was present in. Each mission comprised of briefing sessions, site visits, exhibition days and a networking event. Missions to South East Asia usually begun in Singapore and concluded in a second target market between Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam or the Philippines. Exhibitions either took place as stand-alone events, like in the Republic of Korea, or were embedded in larger international trade fairs. Both types were equally successful. In 2020, missions became virtual to support European companies in consolidating business collaborations during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A survey conducted on the business missions from 2017 to 2019 sheds a light on many interesting insights:
- 44% of the companies that participated were small, followed by medium-sized companies (30%). Micro sized companies accounted for 17% of the participants, and large ones for the remaining 9%. Proof of the Programme flexibility was also its ability to adapt to the diversity of businesses supported: while most participants (26%) had exports as high as 81%-100% of their sales, the second largest share (20%) had less than 20% exports.
- Small companies had the highest success rate (49%), followed by micro companies (48%). The youngest companies (established in 2016 or later) have been the most successful ones (67% success rate), despite their small share among participants.
- Product categories that were not frequently represented in Green Energy Technologies have been 100% successful (namely, Biogas and Carbon Capture Technologies), and 57% of the companies with products related to energy conservation concluded and/or expected sales one year after their participation.
- With regards to Environment & Water Technologies, Water Solution products had the highest rate (70%) of sales conclusion/expectation for this sector.
- Healthcare & Medical Technologies was the sector which held the most business missions during 2017-2019, and recorded the highest average success rate (61%), with the largest share of companies trading Medical Equipment. Nanotechnology Healthcare and Telemedicine & Remote Health Monitoring products concluded/expected sales more frequently (respectively 80% and 77%).
- European companies trading Cybersecurity products for the Information & Communication Technologies sector concluded and/or expected sales more frequently (54%) than their colleagues from other subsectors, but 96% of all the ICT companies expected their business in the target market to grow.
- Green Energy Technologies (88%), Organic Food & Beverage (88%) and Railway Technologies & Services (87%) had the highest overall success rates. Yet, ICT (57%), Contemporary European Design (53%) and Healthcare & Medical Technologies (48%) had the highest rates of new business collaborations establishment than those expected. Furthermore, 31% of the participants from these last three sectors experienced growth in their turnover in relation to the target market one year after their participation.
- Almost three quarters of the European companies (72%) were close to signing a contract. Especially those who attended business missions for Contemporary European Design (72%) and Organic Food & Beverage (71%).
- The benefits experienced by the participating companies in the missions for Construction & Building Technologies and Clean Technologies did not stop at understanding the target market, but brought sales, partnerships and new jobs in Europe.
- South East Asia (91%) and China (89%) had the highest growth expectations. However, South East Asia had the highest success rate (51%) among the four target markets. Together with the Republic of Korea, it is also one of the two target markets in which the rate of new business collaboration establishment is higher than that of expectation.
- Despite being the “least” successful market, 76% of the participating companies to an EU-funded business mission to China established and/or expected new business collaborations, while the average for the Republic of Korea, South East Asia, and Japan was 83%.
- Regardless of the target market visited, the largest share of European companies engaged in further detailed discussions. Finally, 68% of the European companies that participated in missions to the Republic of Korea were close to signing a contract.
Success stories are countless, and more detailed analytics can be found in the report “Successful in Asia. Data Mining on success factors to expand into Asia”.
Finally, the Programme closely followed and leveraged trade connections between the EU and the Asian target markets. With the EU-Republic of Korea Trade Agreement in place since 2011, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) further strengthening the bond between the two long-standing economic partners, and the newly adopted Free Trade Agreements — in Singapore, in 2019, and Vietnam, in 2020, EU Gateway | Business Avenues lifted thousands European companies to new heights. Today, its legacy provides a solid base geared towards tighter international business cooperation and the “next” normal: a more sustainable future founded on digital and global health.