Iberian growth creates export opportunities


Emma Naismith
Regional Manager Spain and Portugal
Jun 05, 2018

Commercial, cultural and historical links between the UK and Iberia will mean there will always be opportunities to export to this market.

Spain is currently one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. This growth is driving consumer confidence and spending. Northern Ireland exports have been increasing but they are still a small proportion of all exports and there is definitely room to grow.

There are opportunities across multiple sectors. Spain has a very strong advanced manufacturing sector with major automotive, railway and aircraft companies. Construction is taking off again after many years of recession providing great opportunities for both construction companies and those in the supply chain. There are also good opportunities in the environmental sector, specifically renewable energy, waste management, water treatment and air quality.

Even though Spain is a food producer in its own right, there is a market, albeit a competitive one, for innovative, quality food and drink products. AgriTech and life & health sciences are existing strong export markets for NI companies.


Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, each with its own local government and procurement processes (and in some cases unique language, culture and tax regime). Consequently, selling into Barcelona is not necessarily the same as trading with the Canary Islands. I have been living and working in Spain for over 15 years so I am very familiar with the local business culture and can help you navigate these nuances.

In Portugal the economy has also stabilised and is now growing. It is ranked in the top third in the World Bank Doing Business ranking. In particular it is becoming a hub for creative and tech start-up.

Portugal is a market that offers exporters a significant opportunity and can be easier to trade with than Spain given its better level of English and close affinity to the UK. As a smaller market on the periphery of Europe there is often less competition and better access to senior decision makers.

Regardless of which territory you wish to export to, do your homework in advance to make sure that your products and services can be sold profitably in the market

Long payment terms are common here and can be a challenge for exporter cash-flows. While terms have begun to improve recently it is still important to ensure you have a detailed, market-specific, export strategy and sound financial planning. Invest NI can provide advice on developing export strategies and research markets. UK Export Finance can provide support and guidance on the financial aspects of exporting.

As Regional Manager for Spain and Portugal, my role is to help Northern Ireland companies identify and qualify opportunities and introduce them to potential partners and customers.

As well as my own knowledge we have a close working relationship with the Department of Industry and Trade (DIT). DIT has specialised teams in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Lisbon and Northern Ireland companies can use this network to help develop export opportunities.


If, after research, you decide Spain and/or Portugal are viable export markets for your business, you will need to spend time visiting suitable partners and customers. It is much easier to understand their needs, and how you can meet them, if you have face-to-face meetings.

In Spain some organisations can be hierarchical and bureaucratic. This can slow down the decision making which can sometimes be frustrating. It is just the nature of doing business here. If you’ve invested time in building good relationships with customers and distributors managing these bureaucracies can be easier.

Once you have established distribution networks or secured customers in the market make sure that you stay in touch and continue to provide them with ongoing support – don’t just assume that once the deal is done, orders will just start coming in. You need to stay proactive and engaged to ensure that your products are high on your partners’ list of priorities, and stay in tune with changing market conditions.

If you would like to explore the Iberian market, Invest Northern Ireland has the expertise, experience and local knowledge to help you succeed. Please contact your Client Manager or our Business Support Team on 0800 181 4422.

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