Cross-border trade with Western Europe: Tips and strategies

December 9, 2021 by
Frank Calviño
Photo by Christian Lue for Unsplash

Cross-border trade with Western Europe mostly means to trade with the European Union (European Union). There is, of course, the odd case of the United Kingdom and perhaps - if we extend the traditional Western Europe list of countries - we could add the likes of Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City. But, for all intents and purposes, trading with Western Europe is trading with the EU. 

And that means to trade with one of the world’s biggest and more cohesive multinational economic superpowers. In fact, no other region has achieved a degree of territorial, economic, and - to a degree - political integration like the UE. 

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The traditional list of nations that form part of Western Europe are: 

Belgium.

France.

Ireland.

Luxembourg.

Monaco.

The Netherlands.

The United Kingdom.

According to the CIA classification 

This poses its own set of challenges and benefits: selling in one country means to be able to sell in all others, and not being able to trade with one, probably will mean not being able to trade with anyone inside the EU. 

Cross-border trade is the heart of the EU 

The whole idea of creating a union among Wester European countries was, in fact, an economic idea: to create a free trade zone in the entire region. And as such, this concept has proven to be remarkably profitable for every country inside the EU. 

From 1999 to 2010, EU foreign trade doubled and now accounts for over 30% of the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP). The EU is responsible for the trade policy of the member countries and negotiates agreements for them. Speaking as one voice, the EU carries more weight in international trade negotiations than each individual member would.

EU official statistics / https://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/eu-position-in-world-trade/statistics/

This “unified front, and single voice” policy has led to multiple bilateral agreements - where the EU acts as a single part - with many different countries and trade regions. These agreements define the rules, tariffs, and conditions for both importing and exporting goods. You can check this list for each current trade agreement that the EU has all over the World. 

As a rule of thumb, there are three different types of agreements: 

Types of EU trade agreement

There are three main types of agreement:

  1. Customs Unions
    • Eliminate customs duties in bilateral trade, and;
    • Establish a joint customs tariff for foreign importers.
  2. Association Agreements, Stabilisation Agreements, (Deep and Comprehensive) Free Trade Agreements and Economic Partnership Agreements
    • Remove or reduce customs tariffs in bilateral trade.
  3. Partnership and Cooperation Agreements
    • Provide a general framework for bilateral economic relations, and;
    • Leave customs tariffs as they are.

Cross-border trade with many voices

Perhaps one of the only things that the EU has not achieved, nor it intends on doing so, is language unification. In that sense, the EU is crisscrossed by multiple languages. 

This is the list of the official languages:  Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish.

This means that, for a product or service to be successful, you will need to localize it - to translate it - into the language of the region or nation you intend to sell. 

Photo by Jacek Dylang for Unsplash

With such a large array of possible markets, the best option will be to narrow down the markets of your interest that share a common language and start there. 

Another great option is to outsource this, by hiring companies that are specialized in offering customer support and localization services for trade and commerce, such as SalesSupply. These companies already provide customer support and logistic services in multiple languages, thus becoming fundamental partners for any business that wishes to trade in the EU territories. 

Also, even when we talk about one region, from the economic and political perspective, the cultural reality of the EU is extremely diverse. Products that might work wonders in Germany, perhaps are not so well received by the Danish or the French. Keep this in mind, and always try to do at least basic market research on each of the nations or regions you want to trade. 

Cross-border trade into and from the EU

Importing and exporting goods into and from the EU is ruled by specific product regulations for each different product category. To ease the complexity of finding out which products are bound by which regulations, the EU has enabled a web service called Access2Markets. 

This online platform allows importers and exporters to find all the details, regulations, and information needed for each specific product or sector. 

New information in Access2Markets

In addition to key country-by-country information about export and import conditions, Access2Markets has

  • Step-by-step guides into exporting/importing goods and services
  • Detailed guidance on rules of origin
  • A tool to help you assess your product’s origin
  • Trade terminology explained along the way
  • Information on how tariffs under trade agreements will be dismantled over time
  • Trade flows statistics with graphs.

Access2Markets is available in all 24 official EU languages and in a responsive and mobile-friendly layout.

EU Trade defense policies 

One of the main aspects of the EU’s trade policies is the fairness of trade. According to the EU principles: for trade to be free, it must be fair. 

And to achieve this “leveled playfield” the EU uses trade-defense instruments based on World Trade Organization rules.

These instruments have a wide range of possible economic and even political sanctions: from preventing unfair subsidization of sectors or products to dismantling monopolies and even prohibiting the trade of products that could be considered harmful for both the EU population and the overall EU wildlife or ecosystem. 

The entire set of rules is fully accessible here 

Final considerations for cross-border trade with the EU

Finally, establishing a cross-border operation with one country inside the EU is the legal equivalent of doing so with the entirety of the EU. In this regard, there is a set of recommendations if you want to trade with any country in Western Europe that belongs to the EU:

  • Comply will all the EU rules 
  • Keep in mind that any legal proceeding will be under EU tribunals and EU jurisdiction 
  • Check out the rules of “fair trade” that the EU has
  • Provide localization and customer support of your product in the corresponding language of the countries in which you are going to sell it
  • Be smart, and always keep an eye on all the different cultural realities of this economic region. The fact that there is a single currency, does not mean that there is a single culture.  
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