VSEs, SMEs, ETIs: optimize your export strategy thanks to free trade agreements

Published on November 30, 2023 at 10:39 pm.

More than 1 billion euros in exports out of the 2,581 billion registered: this is the amount covered in 2021 by the 42 trade agreements that unite the European Union with 74 partner countries and regions. However, as demonstrated by to study commissioned by the General Directorate of the Treasury and published on November 16, many French companies do not benefit from the preferential customs rates provided for in these so-called free trade agreements. Small businesses are particularly concerned: 25% of micro-enterprises and 16% of SMEs surveyed do not know that their products can benefit from such export advantages.

A tangle of rules

This observation is not surprising: the duration of the ratification of the agreements (four years for the one recently concluded with New Zealand) is already likely to disinterest many companies in the subject. The content of these treaties, which bring together legal texts on the most diverse subjects, is recognized for its complexity. Pascal Lamy, former director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), spoke of a “bowl of spaghetti” to illustrate this tangle of rules, some of which end up overlapping.

Companies that wish to apply customs preferences must, therefore, learn to master notions as diverse as techniques: tariff type of the product, origin (preferential or not), customs value, approved economic operator status, etc. associated documents, such as the declaration of origin on the invoice or the circulation certificate.

Most VSEs, SMEs or ETIs do not have an internal export department capable of handling such complexity or carrying out regulatory monitoring. The economic emergency also dissuades them from taking measures that are often time-consuming. Result: due to lack of time and resources, they give up asserting their rights.

An essential competitiveness lever

In doing so, export candidates deprive themselves of an essential lever of competitiveness, as highlighted by Myriame Ly, lawyer in international commercial law at CCI Paris Île-de-France:
“It is important for businesses to be aware of the variety of EU trade agreements, both in number and content. Using tariff preferences wisely, they will be able to optimize their imports and/or exports, giving priority to geographical areas covered by agreements. »

In addition to strictly customs aspects, the agreements also address numerous non-tariff obstacles, in matters as diverse as manufacturing standards, packaging, labeling, transport conditions, safety, or even the environment… So many facilitators that It is crucial to know and integrate into your export strategy.

Numerous tools available for SMEs

Fortunately, public authorities and institutions are increasing initiatives to resolve these obstacles. Starting with the European Commission, which has invested in the development of tools such as the Access2Markets portal. Since 2020, it has been offering free information about customs duties, quotas and customs formalities. The business advisory units of the General Directorate of Customs and Indirect Rights (DGDDI) also offer free diagnosis and monitoring, in order to optimize the management of companies’ customs activities and allow them to gain competitiveness.

We target those who choose to manufacture in France or the EU. Customs supports us in the security of our declarations, resulting in savings of almost 3 billion euros in exports in 2021.

specifies Marc Fabre-Garrus, Acting Head of Economic Action and Business Mission at DGDDI.

The Ile-de-France CCI addresses the issue

The network of 122 Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CCI) is not left out: its bridge, the CCI Paris Ile-de-France, has developed a dedicated website, lexportateur.com, which provides companies with the regulatory information necessary to export to 175 countries. It also offers alerts in case of regulatory changes and legal advisory services.

In addition to guaranteeing import/export operations through information, lexportateur.com allows the prospecting of new markets

completes Myriame Ly.

At the same time, CCI Paris Ile-de-France offers a large number of training courses in international trade, including some dedicated to customs and compliance aspects. So many opportunities for SMEs to refine their customs strategy to make it a real lever for international development.
During the closing ceremony of the 16th edition of “ Go international », organized at the facilities of the CCI Paris Ile-de-France on December 5th, Pierre Mongrué, its deputy general director in charge of international affairs, will also speak during a round table on the topic: “Contractual free trade agreements, the What winning strategies to develop internationally? » Fruitful exchanges in perspective.

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