Export Helpdesk, the European platform created since 2004 for exporters outside the EU, its successes, its new association agreements and its difficulties were the focus of the interview given by Holger Standertskjöld-Nordenstam, Head of Information, Communication and Civil Society Unit in the European Commission Directorate General for Trade.
What is the purpose of the EU Export Helpdesk?
The Export Helpdesk is a single gateway to online information about exports to Europe. The idea was to create a platform for companies from countries outside the EU wishing to sell their products on the EU market. The system was designed to reflect real-time conditions on the export of all types of goods, from handbags to t-shirts through honey and wine. It takes into account all standards, trade agreements, rules of origin, etc… It is a system that allows precise calculations, based on the country of origin and goods for export.
The Export Helpdesk was established in 2004 and until now, the EU has been the only trading partner in the world to offer such a service.
Regarding the European neighborhood, we have a longstanding relationship with the southern neighbors, where association agreements have been in place for a long time. We are now seeing a growing interest from neighbors from the east. The translation of the Export Helpdesk Arabic and Russian in 2010 clearly represented a step from the EU towards its neighbors.
The Export Helpdesk mainly assists small businesses and new exporters that generate real economic growth.
How does the Export Helpdesk work?
First of all, even those who are not experts in trade should be able to use it. Once you’ve decided what you want to export, you can find the product code in the database and start the search. The platform then tells you the rules that apply to your product and country. The aim is to provide practical information based on your specific case. The calculations are made from very precise data. If an entrepreneur exports wine from Georgia, he does not want to have the unpleasant surprise to discover that his precious “Tsinandali” is stuck at the border. Any mistake can be very costly indeed. The Export Helpdesk tells you what you need to do and what documents you need to complete so that everything goes well.
Do you have a call center?
No, because in our case, it is impossible to have employees with such expertise who work full time. However, we have a service that collects questions and provide answers.
Where does a small Egyptian company wishing to export cashew nuts on the European market begin?
It should start using the website of the Export Helpdesk for conditions that apply in his case. It must therefore verify phytosanitary regulations in force. All food products must meet European health standards and demonstrate compliance. There are other rules to know, for example, it should be mentioned on the label.
The Export Helpdesk can help users find all of this information. For convenience, we train exporters to use this system with the EU delegations and through professional associations and chambers of commerce.
Are the EU neighboring countries’ exports to Europe affected by the current financial crisis?
No, the EU remains the largest market for these countries. In fact, over 40% of their exports goes to Europe. We do not close our doors because of the financial crisis. Europe remains the largest importer and exporter in the world and the demand for goods is very important.
In fact, we even found a marked increase in the use of the Export Helpdesk over the years. Its use has doubled in the last five years, with an increase of 20% per year.
What are the main achievements of the Helpdesk?
The first is that it works and it is free. No other country or region of the world has never offered such services to companies that wish to export.
The EU is currently negotiating new association agreements, including thorough and complete free trade zones with eastern partners. When they come into force, how fast the platform will be updated to reflect this new situation?
The new agreements will not be implemented overnight. From the EU side, we have to leave to the customs of the Member States time to implement the new rules. The duration depends on the size of the country and the volume of trade.
What is your biggest challenge?
The reason why it is difficult to implement a system like ours is that it contains a lot of information about many countries. Thus, we provide detailed information on the conditions, tariffs, preferential arrangements, rules of origin that apply to different products exported from 176 countries. These data must be entered into the system, updated and translated continuously. One mistake could result in erroneous calculations for a company that is poised to make a strategic decision on its exports to the EU.
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