International laws and regulations change frequently and/or may be applied differently from that of the exporter’s own country. It is therefore important that the exporter drafts a contract in conjunction with a legal firm, thereby ensuring that the exporter’s interests are taken care of. The exporter should draw up a checklist of basic legal questions aimed at the imported prior to signing any formal contract.

In particular the exporter should be clear as to which law and dispute-settlement procedure will apply to the contract (known as the jurisdiction of the contract). The exporter may wish to impose choice of law and choice of forum clauses, which state that disputes will be settled under the exporter’s own national law and courts.

What is more, the legal environment of a country is developed from, or through, the political environment. Great care must be taken in assessing the legal aspects of trade with a particular country. The law not only in South Africa but also in the country to which he is exporting influences the exporter when doing business internationally. By way of illustration, it is only necessary to refer to the strict product-liability situation in respect to goods sold into the United States of America and the disastrous impact that this could have on the exporter.

Another aspect for consideration is when trading with Muslim governed countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Exporters should first approach legal organisations within these countries prior to any legal negotiations being determined, in order to ensure that the exporter’s best interests are protected, as these countries do not operate their legal system based on Roman/Dutch law as we do in South Africa.

When appointing a middleman or intermediary, such as a trading house, agent or distributor, exporters should be aware of many issues and responsibilities that influence the appointment of such intermediaries. A list clearly stating these issues must be included in the agreement, by specifying the rights and duties of the parties involved in the trade transaction, would prevent unpleasant legal conflicts that could arise at a later stage.