Publicly funded trade promotion services appear to play an important role for the internationalisation of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); however, it is difficult to evaluate the impacts of trade promotion. Evaluations often focus on a population of firms that have been in contact with organisations offering trade promotion services. This is problematic for a number of reasons. Even if firms that have used the services are found to have established new export relationships or increased export volumes, it is difficult to establish causality as trade promotion is, at least to a certain extent, demand driven. Moreover, new trade promotion services and initiatives are often targeted towards countries that are expected to become important export markets.
This report analyses trade promotion from another perspective. Instead of studying a population of firms that have used trade promotion services, we have chosen to study a population that has begun exporting to a selected foreign market during a given year. The region selected was the Asian region, as defined by Statistics Sweden, which includes Southern Asia and the Middle East. The study is focused on the role trade promotion has played for all the SMEs from a selected Swedish region (the four southernmost counties) that started exporting to a market in the Asian region during 2013. For our analysis we used a combination of official statistics from Statistics Sweden, a telephone survey (conducted by Sifo) and interviews with firms (conducted by our research team). The main issues studied were the firms’ experiences of trade promotion services, their views on and knowledge of available services and, finally, information on how they came into contact with customers on the new export market.
The results of our analysis show that publicly funded trade promotion services were not of great importance for the southern Swedish firms that began exporting to the Asian region during 2013. Only eight of the 51 firms that took part in the survey had used the services of a publicly funded trade promotion organisation when they began exporting to the region. Swedish embassies and consulates were the most common public organisations contacted. Just two of the firms had used Business Sweden’s services (formerly the Swedish Trade Council).
We found that that majority of the firms in the population studied were aware of many of the available publicly funded trade promotion services. Half of the firms had used publicly funded services at some point. Many of the firms had also used private trade promotion services. We also found that many of the firms studied were relatively experienced in international trade, with previous export to several different foreign markets. This level of experience may explain their limited use of trade promotion services in establishing export to Asia in 2013.
In general the firms believe trade promotion services, in particular those offered by the Chambers of Commerce, to be of a high quality.
The twelve semi-structured interviews conducted revealed greater differences among the firms. The majority had previously used a variety of trade promotion services, but their needs and patterns of usage varied. While some were well informed and had experience of the different publicly funded trade promotion services, there were others that had not used any public services at all. The firms owned by multinational companies were generally relatively uninterested in trade promotion services because they already had good access to international contacts through the parent company.
Some of the common themes that arose in the interviews concern the trade promotion services’ quality. A number of firms report both positive and negative experiences. The personal qualities and abilities of the trade promotion organisations’ personnel emerged as a critical factor. Many firms also emphasised the importance of exhibitions and trade fairs for making new customer contacts.
New Swedish exporters to Asia during 2013 The role of trade promotion