But dreams and reality are often very different.
“BRIC is one thing, and while we call them “emerging markets” they’ve pretty much emerged,” says Jeff Brownlee, vice president of public affairs for the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association (CME). “To compete there now you pretty much have to be better than everyone else, and come in at a lower price. It’s a huge challenge.”
However, Brownlee admits the market here is small. And while he says expanding sales in foreign markets is critical, he adds that it will be the biggest challenge of the 21st century for Canadian companies.
So if the new hot market isn’t the new hot market, what is?
Canada’s largest industry and trade association is putting its money on Mexico – or, more accurately, has research showing it’s a hotter market than it’s more popular South American neighbour, Brazil.
“The Mexican market for Canadian products is larger than Germany, France and Italy combined, or the combination of Brazil, India and Russia,” says Brownlee. “There’s a whole other world of opportunity to look at — Mexico, South America and Latin America in particular.”
Polar Mobile is a tech company that learned a good friend is a close one when it comes to exports. Media companies use its software to publish on mobile devices, and while the business has customers in 12 countries, the US, UK and Canada make up its largest markets.
That said, proximity doesn’t necessarily make breaking into a market easy.
“Canada as a business partner is very well respected and liked around the world, but when it comes to entering a new market you have to establish credibility,” says Polar CEO Kunal Gupta. “Among the first questions we’re asked is, “who else are you working with in our country?”
When Polar hasn’t signed an agreement in a new territory, Gupta and his team answer the credibility question by demonstrating Polar’s track record within the media industry, instead of focusing on regions.
“When they know major players are customers, that helps negotiations,” says Gupta.
Would-be exporters need to understand local laws as well as customs or expectations when doing business. There are a few good resources for exporters — Export Development Canada (EDC) offers a wealth of information and advice, while the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has Virtual Trade Commissioners. They’re local in-country experts available online, who can offer insight into local laws, terms of trade and customs.
“That can be a major gotcha if you hadn’t planned (for it).” says Prowse.
He also warns that financing can add a number of complications that can trip up a naïve or novice exporter. Few countries are willing to deal in Canadian money, preferring US dollars or local currencies.
“It’s a good idea to build a relationship with a bank in Canada and to have forward contracts in place – this is an agreement to exchange currency at a future date, at a fixed rate,” he says. “Above all you really need to have clear contracts and an outline of who is responsible for what. You need good documentation — don’t rely on phone calls.”
As an entrepreneur with an international customer base, Gupta has one final piece of advice.
“Get on a plane and go there,” he says.