European businesses need to be 'lean and mean' to survive

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Story highlights

  • EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht says businesses need to be lean and mean to grow during tough times
  • De Gucht says European companies need to look outside the continent for future growth
  • He believes they need to explore more in Chinese marketplace

European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht believes businesses need to be lean and mean if they're to ensure growth during the tough economic times engulfing the continent.

De Gucht's comments come as the European Business Awards were handed out in Barcelona, highlighting some of the greatest achievements by companies despite the current climate.

"We cannot get out of this crisis without the businesses," says De Gucht. "It's the companies who are performing the export and the trade, and who produce the products that we can market on the world marketplace."

Businesses up for awards this year ranged from Turkish mattress makers to a Parisian car firm. Their accomplishments have been recognized, whether they are new start ups or established companies, who've been around for decades.

But regardless of how old they are, companies are being told to keep rejuvenating. De Gucht emphasizes the need for businesses to be innovative to guarantee they survive and thrive in troubled economic times.

"They should be confident and continue taking risks, measured risks, but you cannot do business without taking risks," he says.

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He also believes European companies need to look outside the continent for future growth, and points to China as a market which should be explored more. "Ninety per cent of growth will be realized in the coming years outside of Europe, and China alone will be responsible for one third of that."

De Gucht recognizes the European Commission's role in helping companies trying to enter into the Chinese marketplace. The Commissioner acknowledges while there are plenty of opportunities in the Asian powerhouse there are also problems, citing intellectual property rights as one area of concern.

He says the body is trying to create conditions to make it easier for business. "We have a lot of problems in this market but we have to realize that it is one of the most promising in the world."

The EU itself has previously been criticized by the World Trade Organization for having too much red tape. De Gucht admits that is still the case but says the body is working on overcoming the issues. "We certainly have deficiencies and we are in a difficult position due to the economic crisis."

But De Gucht warns the business world not to discount Europe. "We are the biggest economy in the world and they will have to take us into account, even for the non-foreseeable future."