Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

SME internationalisation beyond the EU

SME internationalisation beyond the EU

Few small businesses in Europe export beyond the EU. Increasing the internationalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and helping them access third markets is crucial for Europe’s competitiveness, economic growth and innovation. The European Commission's priority is to ensure that enterprises can rely on a business-friendly environment and make the most out of growth markets outside the EU.

Benefits of internationalisation

Why should SMEs expand their business beyond the EU?

  • an estimated 90% of global growth will originate outside the EU in the coming years
  • developing and emerging markets are expected to account for 60% of world GDP by 2030
  • given increased market integration, SMEs can play an important role in global value chains

According to a study on the level of internationalisation of European SMEs (748kB, 2009), international SMEs also create more jobs and are more innovative than national SMEs.

A Eurobarometer survey (2015) shows that about half of SMEs in the EU were involved in international business outside the Internal Market over the last 3 years. Complicated administrative procedures, high delivery costs and identifying business partners were indicated as the major barriers for exporting.

Commission actions

In 2011, the Commission proposed a new strategy aimed at helping SMEs expand their business outside the EU. The communication 'Small business, big world' sets out 6 fields of action:

  • strengthening and mapping the existing supply of support services
  • making support schemes at EU level more consistent
  • promoting clusters and networks for SME internationalisation
  • rationalising new activities in priority markets
  • leveraging existing EU external policies

A number of studies were conducted to understand the problems SMEs face when going international and to help them overcome these challenges - see studies on internationalisation.

The Commission also established SME policy dialogues bilaterally (China) and multilaterally (EU-MED Cooperation, Eastern Partnership). These aim at aligning the policy framework for SMEs across borders.

8th EU-US-EU SME Best Practices Workshop in Wichita (USA), October 2017

The SME Workshop aimed to share expertise in promoting the development of US and EU SMEs and expanding opportunities for them to export to each other's markets.

Support tools

See support for SME internationalisation available to companies that want to go international.