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  • Taking Your Business Global - How to Begin
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    Resolving International Disputes

    Importing and exporting certainly can help you open up new markets, but like any transaction, there is always the possibility for disputes. And when it comes to international trade disputes, resolving them can be complex and sometimes unpleasant.

    The most common issues, of course, concern payment and shipping delays—or disagreements on the quality of the goods and services provided.

    One way to avoid disputes is through careful planning. You might want to consider purchasing an insurance policy from the Export-Import Bank of the United States. This organization offers a wide range of insurance programs to protect your interests.

    If you do find yourself having trouble collecting payment, the U.S. Department of Commerce suggests some steps you can take before you enter into a more formal dispute resolution process. These steps include:

    • Contact the buyer to clarify the misunderstanding and to see if you can work together to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution.
    • Make sure your counterparty has a copy of the specific contract, invoice, or letter of credit you’ve assumed was in place.
    • Make sure all your shipping and customs documents are in order.
    • Try to work out a delayed payment plan with a buyer if that seems workable.
    • Discuss the issue with your international banker or a lawyer.
    • Keep detailed records and copies of all correspondence and records related to the dispute.

    If you can’t resolve the dispute, there are several organizations that can help mediate or arbitrate the issue. One is the International Chamber of Commerce, which offers a variety of mediation and arbitration services.

    And if you’re doing business with a trading partner through a free trade agreement, that organization may also help resolve disputes. For example, NAFTA offers both “dispute settlement” and “alternative dispute resolution” services. Other free trade organizations may provide similar services.

    As a last resort, you’ll probably want to contact an attorney with experience in resolving international trade disputes.

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    Game Plan

    • Plan to avoid disputes in the first place by using a letter of credit and/or insuring your transaction through the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
    • If you’re doing business under a free trade agreement, check whether your organization offers any dispute resolution options. Wikipedia lists these trade organizations with links to many of their websites.
    • Contact the International Chamber of Commerce to see if that organization can help settle the issue.
    • Consult with an attorney who specializes in international trade law. You may be able to find one near you at Lawyers.com.