Published 22 January 2020

Swedish Public Export Promotion in comparison to other countries in Europe

This analysis is a part of Growth Analysis's framework project How can the state facilitate new and small enterprises to enter markets abroad? The purpose of the analysis is to increase the understanding regarding how Sweden and comparable countries have chosen to organize their nation’s public export promotion efforts and what these have resulted in. The focus of the analysis is efforts aimed at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The countries we compare are Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany. The study is a follow-up and extension of three analyses published by Growth Analysis in 2014–2015.

Focus on selective support and increased use of export strategies

All countries, except Germany, focus their public export promotion on giving selective support to individual companies. In Germany, which has a different governmental structure, emphasis is put on improving the overall conditions for trade in foreign markets. The German federal states do, however, carry out their own export promotion efforts to varying degrees and selective support is provided in some federal states.

In December 2019, Sweden launched a new export strategy, replacing the previous one from 2015. The update was partly done due to a changed world situation and increased insights about the climate challenges. For the same reason, Denmark has recently updated its strategy. Both of the new strategies have a clear focus on sustainability and the efforts are put in relation to Agenda 2030. The Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom have also launched export strategies. All countries' export strategies underline the importance of improving SME's export opportunities.

Differences in the organization of export promotion actors

When it comes to which actors that perform public export promotion, Sweden stands out as having a greater number of export promotion actors than the other countries. Sweden is also the only country with a public-private organization as its key export promotion actor (Business Sweden). Public-private organizations are also found in Norway and the Netherlands, but there they have less central roles. Germany and the Netherlands use private actors to carry out certain parts of the state's export promotion activities, which is not as common in the other countries.

Finland has recently undergone a major change in its export promotion. In 2018, the government created Business Finland through a merger of the state-owned company Finpro and the innovation and technology financing authority Tekes. The aim was to create a more cohesive offering by allowing one actor to handle both innovation and export promotion. In Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands, one actor does also handle both innovation and export promotion. In conjunction with the merger, Finpro's previous consulting services were discontinued in order to ensure that the state would not compete with private export promotion suppliers.

The management of the official export credit operations[1] is carried out by one actor in Finland, Denmark and the United Kingdom respectively. In Sweden, Norway and Germany, several different players provide these services. In Norway, there is an ongoing discussion regarding merging the various actors managing export credit operations into one. In comparison, the Netherlands do not have an official public actor that is specifically engaged in issuing export credit financing, but the official export credit agency only offers export credit guarantees. However, companies can apply for smaller export credit financing through the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, RVO’s programmes.

Increasing regional presence and collaboration

In 2015, Sweden introduced the national coordination network “Team Sweden”, a unified structure of public export promotion actors. “Regional export centres” were established the same year. The regional export centres have been introduced in all regions in order to simplify for SMEs with export ambitions to find the right support and the right export promoter around the country. Finland and Norway have also introduced coordination networks and Finland and the Netherlands have implemented similar regional collaboration efforts as Sweden. All comparison countries have export promotion actors with regional presence.

In Sweden, as in many of the other countries, export promotion actors collaborate with embassies and trade offices. The purpose is to help companies to make contacts in international markets. Together with the foreign missions, the export promotion actors organize events such as delegation visits and partner-seeking events.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, the state, academia and the private sector actively collaborate with export promotion. Representatives, including SMEs, are a part of working groups with task of e.g. directing and coordinating the state's export promotion. In Sweden, the private sector does not have an equally active role in determining the official export promotion. The state has, on the other hand, had regular dialogues with representatives from the private sector, e.g. when developing the export strategies. Private sector representatives do also participate in meetings with Team Sweden.

Several countries, Sweden included, carry out efforts aimed at improving collaboration between different exporting companies. The collaboration efforts are based on experienced export companies supporting companies with less experience in export.

Similarities and differences in products and services

There are both similarities and differences regarding the products and services that the export promotion actors offer SMEs. Digital tools and platforms have become more common in all countries in recent years and all countries offer some form of basic technical export consultation, both through physical meetings and digital channels. Public actors in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom also offer SMEs more detailed, in-depth consultation. Within Sweden, SMEs can access these in-depth counselling services free of charge. The other countries do generally charge for these services, but SMEs can get them partially subsidised. In Finland, the Netherlands and Germany, public actors do not offer in-depth consultation but refer SMEs to the private market.

Several countries have created export financing products that are specifically adapted for SMEs. In Sweden, for example, Almi has initiated a collaboration with the export credit insititute EKN in order to simplify SME's export financing. The collaboration means that Almi provides companies with loans while EKN insures the credit risk. In Denmark and Finland respectively, the export credit agencies EKF and Finnvera have introduced special export credit guarantees for SMEs. In the United Kingdom, UK Export Finance has started a partnership with five major commercial banks in order to support SMEs.

Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands offer SMEs financial support or subsidies through public actors in order to promote their exports. In the United Kingdom, only SMEs exporting to developing countries can apply for financial support. Germany does not offer financial contributions through the public actors operating under the federal government. However, SMEs can seek financial support through some federal states and through private, but partly publicly financed, chambers of commerce.

Evaluations are important for export promotion development

All comparison countries have in recent years evaluated their export promotion efforts. We can, however, not draw conclusions regarding how the results from these evaluations have been used to develop the promotion. Many of the countries have nevertheless expressed that regular impact evaluations should be carried out. In most countries, the ministries and other public actors are the ones that initiate the evaluations. In Denmark, academic researchers have mainly taken the initiative.

The methods used in the evaluations vary and quantitative matching approaches are common. One method that has been used to evaluate export promotion in Norway and the United Kingdom, but so far not in Sweden, is randomized controlled trials (RCT). Most evaluations that have been conducted highlight the effects of specific actors' efforts. Commonly analysed outcome variables are companies' exports, productivity and employment. Most studies show an overall positive effect of export promotion efforts. However, studies in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have shown that only already exporting SMEs are positively affected by some export promotion efforts.

In recent years, Sweden has conducted a number of both qualitative and quantitative evaluations of export promotion. Most quantitative impact evaluations have been carried out by the export promotion actors themselves and only a few have been done by external actors. In spring 2020, Growth Analysis will publish a quantitative impact evaluation of Swedish export promotion. We also see that the lessons learned from this comparative analysis can add value to future evaluations.

[1] A combined conception for export credit financing and export credit guarantees.