Saturday, 4 October 2003

Still An Uncommon Market

Ever had Refosk before? What about Rebula? Or perhaps Sipon? Neither did I, that is until last week, when I attended the inaugural meeting of the European Business Enlargement Club, sponsored by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.

The club aims to bring together in one forum nationally based businesses who are looking to enlarge their businesses within Europe, in order to take advantage of what is now almost a borderless European market. And so it was that our whole evening was spent sampling nationally famous but little known (Europe-wide) delicacies, in order to promote them to a wider continental audience.

The new accession countries were well represented, particularly Slovenia, where the three wine varieties Refosk, Rebula and Sipon hail from. Victimized by the monopoly of the French varietal wines like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, I was quite delighted to discover the quirky but otherwise very quaffable Slovenian wines. Of course a lot of work still needs to be done to promote them to the status enjoyed by the French vintners. Many English families have now started giving their daughters names like Chardonnay, but I think it will not be anytime soon that we start hearing of baby girls named Refosk.

National tastes die hard, except those of the British, who never had national tastes to begin with. But while work to promote goods influenced by national palates across borders seems a daunting task, less resistant to change are corporate activities that are now seeing a massive reconfiguration, driven by the widening of the European market.

Another large segment of organizations represented in the meeting, for example, was shared service center providers and contractors, whose businesses have seen a massive boom since the opening of the common market, and especially after the adoption of the common currency.

Shared Service Centers are the accounting "super factories" where multiple sites of an organization throughout Europe process all their accounting activities in one location. The savings in terms of manpower and facilities costs are enormous for many businesses, prompting many to join the trend. Today, when one orders goods from France, chances are the actual delivery will come from say Italy, the invoice may be issued in Scotland, and the payment collected in France.

Yet for all the changes towards market convergence, parts of Europe are still very much national. The job market, for example, is still quite fragmented. Basic issues such as common qualifications throughout the continent remain a distant reality. So much as a professional from Greece wants to work in the UK, as he has been told that employment across borders is now unrestricted, chances are that non-recognition of his Greek qualifications would prevent him from pursuing his pan-European ambitions.

Clearly, a lot of work still needs to be done to give life to a truly common European market. And it is good for us in the Philippines to watch and see how it all takes shape. After all, Asean may well decide to become a unified trading bloc like Europe, in order to have more muscle and critical mass in the world market. And when that happens, if would be good if we could avoid the innumerable start-up problems, such as we now see in Europe.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, October 04, 2003 (

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