In the context of this strategy, the European Commission has developed a specific plan to help European enterprises and in particular, SMEs to seize global opportunities by streamlining and strengthening the national and international support that is available to them.
Internationalisation refers not only to exports, but to all activities that result in a meaningful business relationship between enterprises and a foreign partner: exports, imports, foreign direct investment, international subcontracting and international technical co-operation. Research has shown that internationally active enterprises are more likely to create new jobs, to grow and to improve their competitiveness and long-term sustainability.
Internationalisation does not only involve large enterprises. A considerable number of European SMEs are also engaged in international activities, however, only a small percentage is involved in internationalisation beyond the Internal Market. Trade, manufacturing, transport and communication and research are the most internationalised sectors in Europe. Partner countries are mainly other EU countries, with the exception of imports from China, where relations with BRIC countries are generally underdeveloped.
The most important barriers reported by SMEs are:
- Internal barriers: price of their own product or service and the high cost of internationalisation;
- External barriers: lack of capital, lack of adequate information, and lack of adequate public support and the costs of or difficulties with paperwork associated with transport.