Protectionism is on the rise and those setting the strategy for their business must ask themselves: are we leaving ourselves open to the risk or prepared for the opportunity?

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Gowling WLG has created research and analysis into protectionism - an issue which goes beyond the current headlines of UK political turbulence, Trump and Brexit and examines what these recent seismic changes mean for UK businesses trading internationally.

Gowling WLG partner Michael Luckman, spoke to The Lawyer magazine about the threats and opportunities for UK businesses trading internationally and what it means for General Counsel.


The biggest threats to UK businesses at the moment is obviously the uncertainty that surrounds the fact that we don't have agreed international trade laws at the moment. This of course knocks on to medium and long term investment plans because they are not certain what they are planning for. Of course the impact of what is happening on sterling and other foreign exchange volatility is also relevant to business and in the long term we are potentially facing a situation where there might be divergence of standards and divergence of regulatory frameworks which is going to make trading much more complex. On the positive side Britain is now open for business with a wider range of countries and we have an opportunity to look out and engage with new trade partners and perhaps be a bit more flexible than we might have been under certainly the European regime.

GCs are playing an ever more important role in setting their businesses strategic direction, if you think about it they are operating right at the legal coal face of what their businesses are up to in a way in which private practice lawyers are not. If you also think about what strategy, is it is very much a forward looking process and that really plans to the risk management and planning skills that legal disciplines can add and it is their ability to ask the candidly, the not so dumb question that everybody else is too afraid to ask or to look round that extra corner and I think you only have to look at what is now happening at board level and the number of lawyers who are now represented either in executive or non-executive capacity at board level to see how much that is been valued.

In protectionism it is a means that, candidly, international trade is not going to get any easier indeed it is becoming more and more complex and there are both threats and opportunities in the cracks that are going to appear between national and international trading regulations. Access to that knowledge is going to become more and more important to businesses and they make trading decisions and of course the in-house counsel are the ways in which you access that knowledge and I do think that for general counsel being able to chart paths through this increasingly complex legal regulatory framework is going to make them even more important to the businesses they serve.