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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Poles embrace EU challenge

By Eddie O'Gorman
BBC NI business correspondent in Warsaw, Poland

On day three of my whistle-stop tour of three east European states about to join the EU, I have been finding out about the Polish economy and links it has with Northern Ireland.

With 20% unemployment, and a GDP per capita modest even by the standards of the new member states, Poland has much to do to make up ground on the established members of the EU.

Warsaw's Palace of Culture is one of the city's landmarks

But there are indications that the economy is beginning to show real signs of growth.

Last year the rate of economic growth was more than 3.5%, and this year it is expected to be closer to 5%.

Julia Longbottom, the director for trade and investment, and consul general at the British Embassy in Warsaw, says that accession to the EU will have a very positive effect.

"UK exports to Poland went up by 10% last year," she said.

"That's their first rise for nearly seven years. Polish exports to the UK went up by over 20%.

"Polish exports are performing very strongly. We have to bear in mind that at the beginning of the 1990s, Poland's main markets were to the east. Now they are in the opposite direction.

"That is a major shift in just the last 14 years."

Ms Longbottom says Polish people have a reputation for being energetic and dynamic, and are very ready to adapt to changing circumstances.

A sign of that is the spread of English, which has become the most important foreign language.

It is being learned by many young Poles, who see it as a necessary skill in the world of business.

Poland has a highly skilled and very industrious workforce and as a market, it's an important place to be
Julia Longbottom
Consul general at the British Embassy, Warsaw

The UK is still only sixth on the list of foreign investors in Poland, and historically UK companies have not regarded it as a natural market.

But there are exceptions.

Tesco have invested over one billion dollars during the past six years, and a few days ago they opened their 39th Polish hypermarket in the city of Lublin.

There is also a growing number of UK companies outsourcing production to Poland.

The Lisburn firm Boomer Industries is an example.

They make high quality plastics and PVC products, and they have reached an agreement with a firm in Poznan to take over some of their manufacturing output, freeing up much-needed capacity at the Northern Ireland plant.

UK and Irish companies are well-regarded by the Poles, so that they have a head start when it comes to doing business here.

Poles say they are ready for the challenges of EU membership

Julia Longbottom says that there is a great deal of potential for exporters throughout Ireland in the Polish market.

Among the sectors where opportunities exist are construction, waste water management, and railways, where a lot of modernisation is required.

Another area is that of ports and logistics. Poland's first deep water container terminal is currently being developed by a UK company the northern port of Gdansk.

The UK's biggest export to Poland is automotive parts, to supply many of the international car makers which have set up manufacturing plants here.

"Poland has a population which is four times the size of the next largest country among the new member states," says Julia Longbottom.

"It has a highly skilled and very industrious workforce. As a market, it's an important place to be."




SEE ALSO:
Breaking down the EU borders
26 Apr 04  |  Northern Ireland
NI firm wins export contracts
25 Aug 03  |  Northern Ireland


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