Over the past decade, Poland has advanced to the world’s top league of exporters. Amid growing structural and geopolitical challenges, maintaining the current pace of expansion will, however, require a joint and concerted effort of companies, the state and the financial sector, according to a report presented by Bank Pekao during the CEO Summit conference. CEO Summit is an annual meeting of global business leaders, international investors and government representatives, organized by Pekao and the Atlantic Council, an American think-tank.
- Exports remain the key growth driver of Polish economy
- However, the growth of exports is mostly attributable to international corporations
- Due to a limited capital engagement of Polish companies abroad, very few of them can be counted as truly global champions
- Poland may remain on the current dynamic path of expansion, but this requires integrated measures to be taken to further boost the international competitiveness of Polish companies.
This year’s CEO Summit with the motto: “Taking Polish Business to the Next Level After 30 Years of Freedom” was held on 8th October in Warsaw. During the summit, challenges connected to the global technological revolution and digitization of the world economy, and ways to strengthen the position of Polish business in the international arena were discussed. One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation of the report “Is Poland ready to grow global champions? Internationalisation of Polish companies enters a new phase”.
According to the findings of the newest report of Bank Pekao S.A., exports remain the key growth driver of the Polish economy that is opening to the world as fast as almost no other economy in the world. Over the last 15 years, Polish export sales have nearly quadrupled, and - in terms of their relation to GDP - Poland has surpassed other countries with similar population potential. From a long-term net importer of goods and services, Poland has evolved into a net exporter going from strength to strength. Over the last three years, the country’s foreign trade surplus has reached the record levels of PLN 70-80 billion.
– Poland’s export successes show that our country has considerable competitive advantages, which it turns into an increasing importance in the international arena. In less than 15 years, the ratio of exports to GDP increased by over 20 percentage points to the level of 55 percent, which distinguishes Poland from other countries of similar population size. As a result, we have joined the elite group of 25 largest exporters of the globe. Of nearly 90 countries with population exceeding 10 million people, only Vietnam has seen a stronger increase worldwide – said Michał Krupiński, CEO of Bank Pekao S.A., during the CEO Summit 2019.
At the same time, however, the Polish exports come to a large extent from foreign corporations who have actively incorporated Poland into their global supply chains. Almost half of Polish exports are generated by less than 11,000 companies with foreign capital and as many as two-thirds of Poland’s top largest exporters are Polish subsidiaries of leading global corporations. Moreover, 27 percent of the total domestic added value included in Polish exports is generated abroad – more than the average not only for the developed but also for most developing countries.
Alarmingly, Polish export production has to a large degree a subcontracting character and relies strongly on the EU market. Only about 20 percent of its total value goes to the dynamically growing non-European markets. For instance, Poland exports to China goods with a total value of about USD 2.5 billion, i.e. only 15 percent of what goes from Poland to the relatively small Czech Republic. Such an overreliance could prove a big challenge in the long run, especially since the European Union is currently one of the most slowly growing regions in the world.
Poland’s strong position in international trade stands in a clear contrast to the relatively low capital engagement of Polish companies on foreign markets, which has persisted for many years. The cumulative value of Polish foreign investment at the end of 2018 totalled approximately USD 29 billion, i.e. slightly less than that of Hungarian companies and as much as 18 percent less than that of Czech ones. Such limited expansion results from numerous institutional, business, capital and information barriers, which in turn leads to low awareness of Polish brands abroad and their positioning in the lower price segments.
– Polish economy should move away from the strictly exports-based stage towards the stage of capital expansion. Proper addressing of the key challenges of such expansion may give a new, strong impulse to the internationalisation of Polish companies, which in turn could give them a real chance of becoming the creators of global trends and active players on the international M&A market. Stronger expansion of Polish business into the international markets could also be an important stimulus for the development of the Polish economy, enabling it to continue to further reinforce its position in the EU and global trade – Michał Krupiński stressed.
The authors also point out that the factors which were behind the dynamic growth of Polish exports in the past are gradually getting weaker. This weakening may substantially accelerate in the coming years, given the unfavourable demographics, rising energy prices, Industry 4.0 revolution (leading to the automation and digitalisation of production processes) and the prospect of dwindling EU funds. Yet the goal should be to keep the growth rate of foreign sales above 5 percent annually. To achieve that, combined and concerted efforts of companies, the state and the financial sector are needed to further boost the international competitiveness of Polish companies.