“Could your business benefit from 100 million potential new customers ?” local companies were asked today at a seminar held by Invest Northern Ireland to highlight the opportunities which will arise from European Union expansion.

Opening the seminar, Jim Sayers, Director of Knowledge Management at Invest NI said; “The map of Europe is changing. In May 2004, just over a year away, The European Union will have expanded from 15 to 25 Member States and will have over 450 million consumers within its borders. This new political map will drive a new economic cycle by opening up markets which were previously less accessible, providing companies with access to new and relatively untapped markets.

“It is important that local companies with export potential to these markets begin preparations now. Invest NI, through our programme of business information and trade development initiatives, provides a wide range of support mechanisms to assist companies achieve increased sales in external markets.”

“It can be a daunting prospect to begin doing business in markets which are so different socially, economically and culturally. However, there is substantial support and advice available to help companies maximise the benefits” Mr Sayers said.

In addition to receiving an overview of the geographic and sectoral opportunities which enlargement will bring, delegates were also given practical advice on doing business in Eastern Europe.

The practicalities of doing business with Eastern Europe and the support available from Invest NI, were highlighted to delegates by the experience of two local companies, Bridgedale Outdoor and the McAvoy Group. Orla Corr, Managing Director of The McAvoy Group said; “Without our participation in Invest Northern Ireland’s Trade Missions and ongoing Invest NI export assistance, the company would not have explored the opportunities offered, which have since proved successful for the company’s export growth.”