Alicia Montalvo – General Manager of Institutional Cooperation at ICEX
After more than 30 years providing support to businesses when entering and growing in foreign markets, the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade (ICEX) ICEX España Exportación e Inversiones has seen how important international activity and markets are for the Spanish economy in general.
In 2014, Spanish exports totalled 2.4 billion Euros, which represented an increase of 2.5% over the previous year and set new records. This rate of growth was higher than that of the Euro Zone as a whole (1.8%) as well as that of the EU (1.3%).
The figure consolidated five consecutive years of growth, during which Spanish exports experienced an aggregate increase of 46%. We are now exporting 27% more goods that we did in 2008, our best year before the economic crisis.
This good performance is having a clear impact on investor confidence in our economy: our investment register showed net foreign direct investment (FDI) growth of 36% in 2013 and 19% in 2014.
Spanish companies have experienced the benefits of internationalisation – improved their competitiveness, sustainability and growth; maintained and created employment – and the benefits it has had for the Spanish economy in general.
New strategy and tools for internationalisation
Despite these satisfactory results, our main challenge for the future is the continuity and consolidation of the progress our companies have made in the international arena. A challenge that ICEX accepts in its 2014-2015 Strategic Plan, in which we set ourselves five strategic goals: expansion and consolidation of the export base, diversification of our target markets, increase in the added value of the goods we produce and export, training of good human capital for internationalisation and the attraction of direct foreign investment to Spain.
In this context, ICEX considers it a priority to facilitate and simplify company access to information services and advice on internationalisation. Implementation of this goal commenced in 2014 with the Ventana Global Ventana Global project. This consists of the provision of information to companies free of charge, not just on ICEX’s programmes and services, but also on those of the entities attached to the Spanish Ministry of Trade, such as CESCE, COFIDES and Expansión Exterior; to the Directorate General for Foreign Trade and Investment, and to ENISA, ICO and CDTI.
The Service handles more than 60,000 queries a year.
In the same spirit of coordination and simplification, the Guide to Internationalisation Services Guía de Servicios para la Internacionalización has been made available to companies. The guide contains an extensive range of public instruments to support the internationalisation of Spanish companies at all stages of the process.
Regional editions of the guide are also available, in which case the information refers to relevant public services in that region.
Furthermore, over the past year ICEX has completed an ambitious and complete overhaul of its website (www.icex.es) to make it more accessible and so that companies – according to their profile – have ready access to the information on services and markets that ICEX offers via its headquarters and also via the External Network of the Spanish Ministry of Trade, with 100 Economic and Commercial Offices Oficinas Económicas y Comerciales and 31 Territorial and Provincial Directorates Direcciones Territoriales y Provinciales.
In order to cater for each company’s needs, ICEX has produced the Personalised Services programme Servicios Personalizados, which offers businesses bespoke solutions that include market research, identification of business partners and the preparation of specific meeting agendas. In 2014, almost 100 Economic and Commercial Offices of Spain abroad provided approximately 3,500 bespoke services to almost 2,000 companies.
Commitment to the coaching of entrepreneurs and human capital
On the other hand, one of the ICEX’s main areas of work is Business Training capacitación empresarial, whereby Spanish businesses are furnished with first-hand information about business opportunities in foreign markets, thus helping them to expand their export base.
On this point, we should mention the more than 150 high-priority foreign market analysis workshops Seminarios, which participants may enrol for throughout the year via the ICEX website. To complete the service, there is an app APP offering more than 40 training courses a year, specially designed for mobile devices.
In addition, the ICEX Connect programme ICEX Conecta affords Spanish businesses the opportunity to attend video conference interviews with experts from the Economic and Commercial Offices of Spain abroad at one of the ICEX offices in the Autonomous Communities in order to discuss matters concerning the industry or a specific issue of internationalisation in a particular market. By 2015, it is estimated that there will be around 700 interviews between companies throughout Spain and a connection with more than 62 Economic and Commercial Offices.
To promote the training of human capital, we must point to ICEX’s Centre for Economic and Commercial Studies Centro de Estudios Económicos y Comerciales (CECO), which offers qualified and specialised training to a growing number of professionals and companies, and promotes the training of young professionals through internationalisation scholarships Becas de Internacionalización, as well as the new work placement programme in financial and internationalisation institutions.
In the area of institutional cooperation, in addition to the Ventana Global project and the integration of government agencies, we must mention cooperation efforts with the Autonomous Communities, which is channelled through the Inter-territorial Internationalisation Council.
Promotion of Spanish companies abroad
In recent decades, an important process of economic integration has taken place on a global scale due, among other factors, to a reduction in trade barriers and a sharp decrease in logistics and communication costs. In this context, international trade shows ferias continue to play a pivotal role in the promotion of international exchanges.
In addition, a wide range of worldwide trade events has led to significant improvement and innovation in trade show content, and we are seeing greater industry specialisation and more professional participants. We at ICEX believe that trade shows should not be seen as an isolated activity, but as an essential component of the internationalisation strategy as a whole, whether at the industry or business level.
In 2014, ICEX supported 312 trade shows in 40 countries through different forms of participation. In total, more than 4,700 business people and over 3,200 companies participated in trade shows.
One of the instruments we have launched to support the foray into internationalisation is the ICEX Next ICEX Next programme, which was set up in 2012 to provide companies with technical and financial assistance for the design and implementation of internationalisation plans. To date, more than 1,100 companies have taken part in the programme.
Also worth a special mention on account of its innovativeness is the ICEX Sourcing Programme ICEX Sourcing, whereby the network of Commercial Offices abroad actively seeks out trade opportunities and matches them to companies that might be interested in harnessing these opportunities. In this case, ICEX makes its network and knowledge of foreign markets and Spanish exports available to those concerned.
Another recent and high added-value initiative is the ICEX Integra programme ICEX Integra, which fosters the “coattail effect” by exploiting the success of major Spanish contractors that have been awarded international projects, primarily in the area of infrastructure.
Through this programme, ICEX identifies possible Spanish suppliers of products and services and puts them in contact with Spanish companies that have been awarded specific projects.
The ICEX Consolida programme has been designed to support Spanish SMEs, which have defined their own brand policy and already have a subsidiary in foreign markets, with their internationalisation projects. The programme aims to support our companies’ internationalisation projects. Other essential tools for the promotion of Spanish companies are the forums and business meetings foros y encuentros empresariales that ICEX organises, as well as the Multilateral Partnership Days, which usually focus on markets with high growth potential, but which are difficult to enter.
To support the challenge of positioning Spain as a global platform for international business and investment, since Invest in Spain Invest in Spain joined ICEX, numerous initiatives have been carried out to attract direct foreign investment, especially from countries, industries and businesses with stronger growth potential than Spain.
ICEX continues to support companies by making a large variety of services and activities available to the private sector and sharing its extensive experience in a bid to help them gain a foothold in global goods and services markets.