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By James Careless
 

For Canadian exporters, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), negotiated between Canada and the European Union (EU), is the next big thing. Due to be ratified in 2017, CETA will give Canadian exports access to a European market that is bigger than China or the United States

Of course, the fact that CETA will open up free trade between Canada and the EU only provides Canadian exporters with the opportunity to succeed in Europe. That’s where the Enterprise Canada Network (ECN) comes in. Hosted online at www.enterprisecanadanetwork.ca, ECN helps registered Canadian SMEs to find qualified European partners for shared business and research enterprises in Europe. Created jointly by CME and Export Development Canada (EDC), the Enterprise Canada Network taps into 30,000 business opportunity profiles generated by the EU’s Enterprise Europe Network (EEN).

“The ECN is designed to give Canadian exporters a head start in entering the EU market, so that they’ll be up‑and-running when CETA kicks in,” says Philip Turi, CME’s general counsel and director of global business services. “But it can only work for your company if you get registered and start seeking European partners now — before your ­competition does.”

Turi and his CME staff were the driving force behind ECN’s creation, with financial support and expert advice from EDC. “Our annual Management Issues Surveys told us that CME members are constantly challenged in finding reliable international business partners,” says Turi. “Mindful of the vast export opportunities offered by CETA, it made sense to help them and Canadian SMEs in general find the contacts they need in Europe — already compiled and managed for us by the EU’s EEN.”

To make the partner search easier, the ECN website has classified thousands of opportunities in business, technology and research and innovation categories. “Once your company is registered, the ECN lets you search the site’s available Canadian and international opportunity abstracts by industry sector, market and technology,” Turi says. “You can post your own opportunity profile to attract Canadian and European interest on the site.” In the initial stage of contact, these profiles are anonymous, providing commercial protection to all parties while they decide to proceed or not.

As well, ECN allows registered members to specify what kinds of opportunities they are seeking. When a new opportunity is listed online that matches these preferences, ECN automatically sends emails to these members, alerting them to the posting. One cool feature: ECN members can store interesting opportunities they’ve found online in their ECN shopping cart, responding to whichever ones they want to at their own pace.

Since coming online in September 2014, ECN has seen more than 200 Canadian companies register for its matchmaking services. “About 100 of these members have already used the site to connect to international partners in Europe,” says Turi. “Clearly, ECN is working.”

Now for the nitty-gritty: ECN members — in Canada or Europe — can choose to post/respond to opportunities formatted as requests or offers. A request is a particular business, technology or research business need. An offer is a particular business, research or technology that can meet that need, whether for a specific company or an entire market segment.

The ECN site also has three highly-useful online tools to make it easier for Canadian CMEs to export to Europe. “The Export Assistance Navigator lets you search all Canadian federal and provincial export support and promotion programs that match your company’s needs,” says Turi. “The Transit Time Tool provides accurate and timely information relating to transit times to and from major international ports through various modes of transportation, allowing exporters to accurately scope out shipping costs and delivery options. And the Publications search engine connects to publications covering a wide range of export and innovation topics over a variety of markets and sectors.”

The best news: Most of ECN’s core services are free. This includes the ECN search engine that provides direct access to thousands of qualified leads, signing up for customized opportunity e-mail alerts by sector and sub-sector and promoting each members’ goods and services through ECN’s opportunity profile system.

“To get directly connected to European intermediaries and their clients, you need to purchase credits,” Turi says. “The first connection is free, and then it costs $20 plus tax for each additional connection — but you can save money by purchasing an unlimited annual subscription. CME members also get a price break on ECN connections, which is yet another advantage of belonging to Canada’s largest trade and industry organization.”

All told, the Enterprise Canada Network is the most effective way for Canadian exporters to get into the soon-to-be wide open European market. “But as the old saying says, you can’t win without a ticket,” says Turi. “In this case, your company can’t benefit from ECN until you register it on ECN. So don’t wait — register today.

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