This September, Trako attracted exhibitors and visitors from the rail sector from around the world, among them over 20 companies from the UK. With Poland currently in the middle of a massive, EU-funded rail redevelopment programme, the opportunities for British businesses here are greater than ever – though so is the competition!
The Department for International Trade (DIT) brought over a trade mission from the East Midlands to Trako as part of a broader UK presence at the show. There was also a DIT seminar, at which all the British participants could learn about the opportunities in Poland – and across the CEE region – ahead of the exhibition's official opening.
The range of products and services offered by UK businesses to the Polish rail sector is broad, from mobile ticketing solutions to piling for gantries, from rail de-icing chemicals to virtual-reality training for station staff and steel rails capable of carrying the fastest trains in Europe.
Participants heard about the size and scope of rail modernisation in Poland, where 31 projects – each worth over 500 million złotys (around £100m) – are currently ongoing. A similar process is happening in Bulgaria and Romania – senior railway executives from both countries set out their plans to bring their rail networks up to the highest European standards.
Before the show, trade mission members from the East Midlands had the chance to meet the president of Gdańsk's tramway operator, GAiT. This meeting, arranged by the BPCC's Trade Team, was followed by a visit to one of the city's two tram depots, currently being expanded. The British firms had the chance to see the state-of-the-art equipment being deployed at the tramshed so that the latest trams can be maintained to the very highest standards.
All of this is a great opportunity for UK firms, but they have to be aware of the differences in doing business in Poland. Above all, there is the public procurement process, which seems far more complicated to first-timers than the way it's done in the UK. The letter of the law is all-important in Poland; the paperwork has to be in order, and much of that is unfamiliar to British firms bidding for tenders here. Fortunately, the BPCC has many members in the B2B advisory sector who are experienced in helping firms win contracts, by knowing exactly what documents are required and what formalities need to be addressed.
Public procurement is slowly becoming more sophisticated in Poland, with an appreciation that factors other than lowest price are important. The notion that total cost of ownership over a 20 or 30-year period is more important than the cheapest price is beginning to sink in. However, Poland still has a culture of appealing against lost tenders; a British firm may win the tender, but the lawyers of the losing firms will pore over the documents looking for any technicality on which they can try to unseat the winning bid.
At the end of the exhibition there was a banquet at which UK rail minister, Paul Maynard and David Reed, the new deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Poland were joined by VIPs from the Polish government and railway industry as well as potential clients for British business to network over cocktails and canapes. This mixer was very well attended and gave British exhibitors the chance to cement relations made at the exhibition stands with a more informal chat in a relaxed atmosphere.
Finally, a farewell dinner was held at the Hilton Hotel in Gdańsk for all the British exhibitors and trade mission members. The BPCC hopes that this years' Trako will result in export wins for the UK