But they face big challenges. Tariffs and complicated customs rules create costs that smaller firms cannot meet as easily as their larger competitors. EU trade agreements are designed to lift this burden, because smaller firms that export grow on average seven times faster than ones that don't.
Trade deals also help big businesses based in the EU to export more and source the inputs they need to make their final products. In addition to large European firms, foreign-owned companies employ more than 7 million people across the EU.
Big companies do not necessarily need trade agreements, as they have the resources to penetrate new, foreign markets. It's smaller firms that could benefit proportionally more from simpler trade rules. That’s why under its new trade strategy, the EU looks especially at the barriers faced by smaller firms when negotiating trade agreements. The challenge is to inform smaller firms about the opportunities created by trade deals, and help them take advantage of them.
Research by the World Trade Organization shows that once openings emerge in new markets, it is nimble SMEs who are quickest to seize the opportunities.