PART ONE: TAKING YOUR BUSINESS ABROAD

Navigating Europe is tempting but tricky

Special to The Globe and Mail

Pedestrians walk across Westminster Bridge in front of the Big Ben clock tower in London. (STEFAN WERMUTH/STEFAN WERMUTH/REUTERS)

Michael Moffatt, whose business, NexReg Compliance, helps companies navigate overseas regulations, still takes a certain pleasure in pointing to the European Union’s Commission Regulation 2257/94 as an example of why foreign markets can be hard to navigate.

For years, the rule set out the standards for the appropriate condition and curvature of bananas, including a minimum length of 14 centimetres and grade of 27 millimetres.

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Regulation 2257/94 was not to be confused with Regulation No 1677/88 – which laid down the rules for cucumbers.

Tired of having the “bendy banana” regulation used as a cudgel against them, EU members voted in 2008 to repeal the regulation. But the mentality that led to its existence is still a powerful force on the other side of the Atlantic.

“The EU is the most heavily regulated market in the world,” says Mr. Moffatt, who founded the London, Ont.-based business, and acts as its director of communications. “You’re going to want to get some assistance with it.”

Doing business overseas is fraught with challenges, and regulatory hurdles are only one of them.

Small businesses have to confront language obstacles, cultural differences, financial barriers and logistical hurdles as they try to get their products into a foreign market. Often, the knowledge to make these leaps doesn’t reside in-house.

How can they tap outside expertise and online resources to help make the leap?

Europe makes a tempting target market these days, especially as the U.S. economy continues to languish.

The United Kingdom, with its commonalities of language and culture, is a common first entry for Canadian companies expanding beyond North America; France offers similar advantages (if perhaps to a lesser extent).

And having broached the Euro zone, businesses can move into other, more challenging European markets.

But for all the commonalities that Western markets share, Europe poses its own challenges.

Regulation

“If you do go into one EU country, you’re 90 per cent of the way there,” Mr. Moffatt says.

But there’s a long way from 90 per cent to 100 per cent. The European Commission issues directives to its member countries, which each must enact into law at the national level.

But some countries may pass regulations that go over and above, yielding rules that are even more stringent than those that exist elsewhere.

“The overlap is probably at the same level as it is between Canadian provinces,” Mr. Moffatt says.

Be sure to investigate regulations at a country-by-country level to avoid unpleasant surprises.

To help cut through the thicket, look for a trade association specific to your industry – these are typically the most informed and up-to-date on shifting regulations.

The Federation of International Trade Organizations , which offers in-depth reports on different cultures from a Canadian perspective. (For instance, office hours are rigid in Germany. Also, “lengthy kissing in public just isn’t done.”)

Even countries like Britain and France, which offer common languages, have peculiarities of language and dialect that require a local (or locally trained) eye to navigate.

Canadians might know enough to say “boot” instead of “trunk” in Britain, but it’s not uncommon for Canadian companies to get snagged by using French copy written for Quebec audiences in France, which has been known to cause comprehension problems.

Best to employ the services of a professional translator. Bonne chance!

This series continues next Monday. Other stories can be found on the Web Strategy section of the Report on Small Business website .

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