The news has been rife with talk of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Canada and European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The potential of such major international trade agreements naturally gets Canadian business owners thinking about overseas possibilities. And, while these two agreements face roadblocks on the path to ratification, there are plenty of trade opportunities already available for Canadian businesses.

The key to successfully harnessing these opportunities, it turns out, is knowing what you don’t know. In the parlance of Donald Rumsfeld, you need to turn your unknown unknowns into known unknowns. Foremost among the unknown unknowns for many business owners is the concept of supply chain echo. Much more than domestic transactions, international trade is subject to regulations that could result in a sale being audited long after it was transacted, bringing new and unexpected costs and problems.

Avoiding unnecessary cost

“Most people think that the supply chain stops when the product gets to the ultimate consumer.  The truth is that, up to five years later, the Canadian government can come along and audit the transactions for any imported or exported good,” explains Joy Nott, President of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters. “And, if the audit doesn’t go well, the penalties are like a sonic boom years after the original sale, and years after the profit for that transaction has been realized.”

This regulatory pitfall is the exact type businesses need to be prepared to avoid when they enter the international marketplace. It’s unsurprising that there are a wide array of professionals prepared to help smooth the way for growing businesses. “When people try to do all these things on their own, that’s when they get in trouble,” says Nott. “Even if you think you have it figured out, you should definitely get that information validated by a professional, whether it be a customs broker, an international trade lawyer, or a freight forwarder. It’s not money wasted. If you spend that money up front, your potential risk of a negative supply chain echo experience is lessened.”

Many businesses are realizing right now is a perfect time to invest, and make a first foray into international trade. Canada has a wide array of trade agreements on which the ink is dry with underserved markets around the world, and new agreements are on the horizon. With the Canadian dollar both low and stable, the world is the Canadian exporter’s oyster. Just get the right people on your team before you bite in.