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E-Unionize

So many countries, so little time . . .

Sure, European countries are becoming more unified every day, but what does that mean for U.S. entrepreneurs? Hugo Paemen, the European Union's (EU's) ambassador to the United States, sees good times ahead for both U.S. small-business owners in Europe and for transnational trade in general.

Christopher D. Lancette:What are some changes in EU markets that haven't yet made the headlines?

Hugo Paemen: One thing to look at is the fact that barriers to trade in the EU have been removed. The same types of approval procedures and technical standards are in place for all member nations. We have also liberalized a number of services, including telecommunications, which is more free in Europe than in the United States. Government procurement rules are also more open. Overall, for American SMEs [small and mid-sized enterprises], the harmonization and openness means they can go to one member state and look for a niche in a market of 370 million people.

Lancette:When U.S. businesspeople think of Europe, they tend to think of France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Are those countries still the primary places to do business?

Paemen: I think that perception is completely wrong. We have 15 countries that make up a strong market. The EU is making sure all countries can benefit from economic development.

Lancette:With increasing unity among EU members, do you think there will be less of a demand for American products and services in the future?

Paemen: On the contrary, I think there will be more. We're moving in the direction of opening more trans-Atlantic markets. With the United States, we've completed some "mutual recognition agreements" that recognize each other's standards for products, so if you get something approved in the U.S., you won't have to get it approved again in Europe. This is a hot issue. Business communities on both sides of the Atlantic want to see barriers removed so we have one giant trade zone between the EU and the U.S.

Lancette:How will the increasing use of the Euro affect small businesses?

Paemen: Obviously, it will reduce the difficulties and costs of dealing with 15 different exchange rates. It'll also make it easier for companies to, say, buy supplies in Madrid, make their products in Holland and sell them in Britain.

Lancette:What are some common misconceptions Americans have about doing business in Europe?

Paemen: I'm still surprised to hear how many Americans aren't aware that Europe has become a single market. They don't know how large the market is. They don't know about the mutual recognition agreements. I think we still have an enormous amount of informing to do.

Lancette:Do you see a lot of potential for more partnerships between SMEs in Europe and here?

Paemen: Yes. Last year, we brought SMEs from Europe to the United States. There's a great interest on both sides of the Atlantic in developing more joint ventures.

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This article was originally published in the October 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: E-Unionize.

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