Peter Snaith, Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson law practice, discusses Brexit, America and everything you need to know about trading overseas for North East businesses.
Please can you give a brief overview of the services you provide to businesses that are trading overseas?
Womble Bond Dickinson advise businesses in relation to all aspects of trading, be that domestic or international. We can advise on commercial contracts and company trading terms, including those devised by the company and those supplied by customers. Because of our link with the US, we can also provide support internationally. Getting the terms right in the UK means they’re right for the US too.
Since we combined with our US partners, Womble Bond Dickinson has lawyers on territory in the United States to provide advice and guidance on issues including immigration, visa applications for company officers to work abroad, export controls, sanctions and embargoes, and completing documentation.
When it comes to setting up a company in the United States, our colleagues on territory can offer advice on what is the logical state to incorporate, advising on incentive schemes etc.
We are a transatlantic firm and can offer advice in other territories too. We’re just more embedded in the US following our merger.
What has been the biggest shift in exporting for North East Businesses in the last 12 months?
Uncertainty has driven behaviors. Brexit and the exchange rate has been good news for manufacturing and other sectors because we’re more affordable to trade with.
There are still lots of reservations around our ability to carry on supplying to the EU given risks around Brexit. And it’s important to question if, under the current administration, and the ‘America First’ initiative, exporting to the US is worthwhile for British companies? The US does offer significant market opportunities though.
Womble Bond Dickinson has been doing a lot of work exploring free trade zones; looking at the pros and cons. If we have a ‘hard Brexit’ or no deal, we will need a solution to World Trade Organisation tariffs. We’re currently working with the Mayor of Tees Valley and HMRC to look at a free trade deal in the region that would remove the need for a declaration process. A hard Brexit would require such a process and the current systems are not capable of dealing with it.
Research is an essential first step to selling in a new market. What key advice would you give a business on how to make decisions based on market data?
Some key advice would be to not rely on market data alone. I had no concept of the scale of the opportunity in the US until I went there. There’s so substitute for getting out there in person and testing the water.
You don't need to be there all the time. We’re connecting businesses virtually so they don’t have to travel for meetings but it’s important to have first hand experience of the size of environment you’re potentially working in.
What top two or three risks do you commonly see exporting companies having to deal with? How do you suggest that businesses should prepare for and manage these risks? Are there specialist services that can help?
It’s vital to have an awareness of the legal, regulatory and tax systems. Get it wrong financially and it can cause everything else to go wrong.
Not having the right partner in the jurisdiction you’re entering is another risk factor. Are they right for your company? Don’t go with first person you meet. Sense check with your accountant and lawyer, and request referrals from other people they work with.
Exporting is not as difficult as everyone thinks it is; people in our region do it everyday. It’s important to get the right advice from the right people.
If a company is looking to start to export their products/services, what advice would you give them/what starting point would you advise?
Do they understand what their route to market will be? Will it be through the internet, via an agency, with the help of a distributor, or from their own office?
The answer might be different for different products and services, not to mention different jurisdictions. It’s important to know what’s right for you and right for your product or service.
There is a wealth of business events available across the North East. Would you recommend any specific events for seasoned and/or new exporters?
The Department for International Trade’s events are the most relevant for a general overview, but I’d urge companies to explore if their sector runs events on exporting. Speak to your trade association to ask if they run any, and if not, why not?
Go to events and talks in your local area. It’s always good to hear from speakers who have been there and done it. Here at Womble Bond Dickinson we regularly get businesses together to share their experiences.
If you had to offer one single piece of advice to exporting companies, what would it be, and why?
My advice would be just do it, it’s not that difficult. The value to your businesses can be enormous in terms of growth.
But do it with the right advice. It’s exciting for me as a lawyer to see the links we now have with the US thanks to our merger.
For any businesses interested in learning more about exporting, Womble Bond Dickinson does have a guide to export available for a fixed fee. It covers all the appropriate content and is a great starting point.
The North East Growth Hub has been working with partner organisations to create a free-to-access information pack. This will be available via the North East Growth Hub’s new Export Toolkit, providing information, resources and links to organisations that can help you start or ramp up your export journey.