Corporations are going global faster than you think. Are you ready?
Let’s say your CEO calls you today and tells you they’re planning to outsource the corporation’s call center to Indonesia. They’ll probably need you to do a few things—set up a subsidiary, read up on local employment regulations, and help close a real estate deal for the new building. In-house counsel is perfectly capable of delivering on these requests; you just need someone on the team to do a bit of research on Indonesian law. But the very next day, you get another call: the company is expanding into Brazil this year.
The globalization of business isn’t news. But with international trade estimated to quadruple to reach $68.5 trillion by 2050, the scope may surprise you.1 In fact, several significant trade agreements were signed in 2018, including the European Union-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Ready or not, your corporation’s global footprint is expanding rapidly. This means going beyond well-established international territories. Countries like Sweden and Australia regularly rank in the top ten of Forbes’ Best Countries for Business due to their favorable trade agreements and low restrictions on imports.
And for companies that trade in services rather than goods, the trend is just as strong. Information globalization has risen to more than 250 percent of its 2001 state, massively outpacing capital, people, and trade, all of which are less than 150 percent of 2001 levels.2 While this explosion is certainly the result of the proliferation of the internet, connectedness brings new business and complexity.
Take the Asia-Pacific region: KPMG expects it to be a major trade partner for the U.K (and presumably other western nations) due to the rapid growth in trade volume and corresponding economic prosperity in the region. This represents opportunities for new revenue streams, new customers, and new talent. While your firm probably has experience with—and resources for—a major economic player like China, what happens when your client is doing business there and in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam?
Despite headwinds like Brexit, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and recent trade wars, it’s clear that global commerce is the future. This means that the regulations governing international business will increase in number, scope, and complexity. Your company will expect you to be well-equipped to guide them through these issues.
Successful corporations with offices around the world may be tempted to take for granted that they’re already prepared for these changes. But an international footprint doesn’t solve all the challenges of increasing globalization. A tool like Practical Law gives legal professionals a significant advantage with standard documents, checklists, and how-to guides. And many Practical Law customers choose to purchase international content for major markets.
But it is impossible to predict where a corporation will go next. No one wants to be caught unprepared when receiving a request for a country they have neither experience in nor resources for. At first, the solution may be to simply assign a small team to research and report back.
This creates a collection of individuals familiar with select foreign jurisdictions. Scaling that expertise across your in-house legal department can become challenging. In a given week, legal teams may be asked to work on tasks spanning the U.S., Mexico, Spain, and Australia. And as the frequency and volume of these requests increases, it will be necessary for others in the department to have a resource that can help them quickly identify and address key differences in the law.
It’s critical to have the right technology and resources in place to ensure you can handle anything your company throws at you.
It’s impractical to expect any in-house counsel to be an expert in local law for every possible country your organizations does business in. But proactive strategies and the right toolset can set you apart. When that call inevitably comes, instead of “let me do a bit of research and get back to you,” you’ll be able to say, “yes, we can absolutely take care of that.”
1 HSBC commercial banking - Trade winds: Shaping the future of international business 2015
2 DHL Global Connectedness Index 2018
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Hong Kong businesses of every size are expanding their global footprint. While global expansion brings a host of opportunities, it also brings new legal challenges and questions.
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