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Do your homework on foreign markets

Before any company starts exporting or importing it is essential that they do their research. International trade is in constant change and shippers must keep themselves informed. All exporters have four key areas to focus on. Companies must know about the cargo, the country, the customer and the costs.

Know the cargo

Besides the technical specifications or ingredients of your product, you must know the relevant harmonised system code (HSC). This covers your customs classification, likely duties applicable, taxes and possible anti dumping surcharges.

If you import from outside the EU, we recommend that you apply to Revenue for a Binding Tariff Information (BTI) document, providing them with a sample of the merchandise in question. Written confirmation of the BTI should then be sent to your customs clearance broker.

Products containing any hazardous elements must be declared with supporting documentation, classification and labelling. Failure to do so is an offence, and can also potentially lead to serious health and safety issues.

Know the country

All exporters and importers need a basic understanding of the market they are dealing with, including its history, culture, current political system, currency, religion, sport and social customs.
It can be easy to cause offence in a foreign country, so always do some research before you visit.

The websites of the CIA, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Arab League of Nations can be very useful. Your client should also help with information on the various additional documentation requirements and restrictions in their country.

Know the customer

It can take a considerable time to get to know potential customers overseas. A patient, friendly and open approach will assist you in winning their trust.

However, making sure you get paid is vital, so you must reach a clear, written agreement on how this will be achieved.

Talk to your accountant, the international trade section of your bank and to experts in international finance to get an understanding of best practice. In today’s economic climate, payment up front is good.

Know the costs

You must agree terms of sale with your overseas client, and decide what portion (if any) of the shipping costs you will bear.

Costs may include:

  • container loading
  • trucking to or from the port
  • sea freight
  • export documentation
  • courier fees
  • marine insurance.

The current downturn has not necessarily led to a drop in these costs. Rates at the ports hold firm, especially when it comes to exports, while fuel costs are stubborn.

The focus right now, for exporters, importers, shipping lines, forwarders, truckers and warehouse operators, is on staying in business until the economy picks up.

If you are an exporter or importer, you may find it useful to talk to a professional customs brokerage firm, to ensure you are not paying too much.

Gerard Kiernan is sales manager of Celtic Forwarding. For more information, log on to or email