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Margot Slattery, President France Ireland Chamber of Commerce, features in the Business Post

Head of the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce says there is a unique opportunity for the two countries to strengthen ties post Brexit.

Irish exporters should be encouraged to use France as a launchpad into other parts of the world where its influence has traditionally been strong such as North Africa and Latin America, the president of the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce has said.

Margot Slattery said there was a unique opportunity to strengthen trade links between the two countries, given that France was now Ireland’s nearest EU neighbour after Brexit.

While about 500 Enterprise Ireland clients are currently selling into the French market, Slattery said there was scope to grow this significantly over the coming years and for Irish exporters to leverage their experience of doing business in France when diversifying into other markets.

“One of the things I’ve learned myself over the years is just the breadth of France’s ability to touch points in the world, whether that’s Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, North America – the French footprint is very, very big.

“I think that can be initially [overlooked] and . . . that’s something that we could promote more here. That breadth of opportunity is a lot bigger than most people think; it’s not just one country, it spreads out so far and the connections that are old and established are something not to be underestimated,” Slattery said.

Since the Brexit vote in 2016, the government and agencies such as Enterprise Ireland have sought to encourage more Irish businesses to expand and diversify their export markets into countries other than Britain.

Slattery, the global diversity and inclusion manager at Sodexo, said it was incumbent on businesses and policymakers to not only grow the export opportunity in traditional sectors but to find opportunities in areas such as renewable energy too.

France has strongly pushed for technology firms such as Facebook and Google to pay more tax, and in November it moved ahead with plans for a digital services tax, an area Ireland has been keen to find global consensus on through the OECD.

Slattery said she did not consider any potential disagreements between the two countries on issues such as corporation tax to be an obstacle to good trading relations between them.

“I personally see it as being separate and dealt with at government level. I don’t believe that business needs to get wound up or closed off around that,” she said.

“The French industry and government is wanting to grow; growth is not easy at the moment so they’re not putting out barriers to entry. We respect that they’ve got those views and we will find a way through our political system to have those conversations.”

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