Navigating the Legal Landscape of International Trade


Growing a business is no easy task, even for seasoned entrepreneurs with decades of knowledge and experience. For one, the fickleness of the UK’s economic conditions – particularly in recent years – has impeded meaningful growth for both new and existing businesses. On a more holistic level, though, there are some hard ceilings to growth that necessitate new approaches altogether.

The Domestic Ceiling

The major ceiling with which fast-growing businesses have to contend is that of the domestic economy. There comes a point when a business has maximised its reach nationally, at which point growth can only continue with a shift of attention to markets further afield. The legal landscape of international trade can be a daunting one for any organisation, requiring both understanding of and compliance with international law, and also of the customs laws of specific nations. Where does a business start?

International Trade Laws

First it is important to understand the landscape for international trade outside of national or domestic law. There are laws that govern the exchange of goods and services between countries, that ensure their fair and transparent trade.

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) developed a framework that has been widely accepted as the modern standard for international trade. The UNCITRAL rules describe standardised approaches to negotiation, formation, and performance of contracts for the sale of goods, as well as the resolution of disputes that may arise from such contracts.

Principles of the Trading System

Where the UNCITRAL concerns itself with improving litigation of international trade between private enterprises, the World Trade Organization (WTO) as an international organisation concerns itself with the free and fair regulation of trade between nations. The WTO has established some fundamental trading principles, on which it bases its recommendations with regard to international trade policy. The WTO operates on the principles that trade should be:

  • Trade without discrimination – that is, the free trade between nations without prejudice.
  • Freer trade – that member countries would work towards reducing trade barriers through negotiation.
  • Predictability – that member countries would make their trade policies transparent and predictable.
  • Fair competition – that member countries would ensure that their trade practices do not unfairly favour domestic producers.
  • Development and economic reform – that member countries would work towards promoting economic development and reducing poverty.

Making Change Tangible

Navigating the legal landscape of international trade can be complex, but is essential for organisations seeking compliant and equitable growth in new markets. The spectre of the Brexit agreement has made trade with Europe more difficult.

A lot of the above information can seem abstract, at least as far as they apply to the specific trade concerns of a private business. But they illustrate the essential frameworks on which international trade is based, and exactly why expert counsel is necessary.

For a key example of how international frameworks might apply tangibly, there is the Madrid Protocol – a recently-adopted international system whereby one trademark application can ensure trademark protections in multiple other nations. This is a must for any unique product making its first forays into international markets.