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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

BLACK COUNTRY INTERNATIONAL

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MEET INTERNATIONAL TRADE ADVISOR: GERALD LA TOUCHE

Gerald joined the Civil Service in 1998 and has spent most of his career in economic development, business support, building partnerships and managing stakeholders’ engagement, towards the development of the West Midlands economy.

Having served the region as the West Midlands Regional Economic Strategy Manager, Gerald has a good understanding of the economic drivers of the West Midlands. 

With a penchant for all things international, Gerald holds a master’s degree in International Relations, International Political Economy from the University of Birmingham. He joined the Department for International Trade (DIT) in June 2015.

“My work experience spans all three sectors; private, public and community, and my commitment and contribution are always focused on the public good. With an eye on the big picture, I take great pleasure in assisting British companies to export and grow into global markets, towards increased employment and economic growth for UK plc,” Gerald told Prosper.

In this month’s Prosper, Gerald answers questions about his role, the clients he works with and the kind of support he offers. 

What region do you cover?

As a part of DIT West Midlands, I am based in the Black Country Chamber of Commerce Offices in Wolverhampton and work across the four borough council areas in the Black Country: Dudley, Sandwell, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Do you have a sector focus?

Like most other International Trade Advisers serving the UK Regions, I am first and foremost a generalist, working with companies from all sectors: manufacturing; engineering; creative, lifestyle and learning; construction; infrastructure; defence and security; healthcare, life sciences and bioeconomy. 

However, alongside this, I am the regional lead on energy, one of the largest sectors in DIT and is broken down into oil and gas, civil nuclear, and renewables. 

Providing a direct link to the DIT industry sector team at HQ in Whitehall and British embassies, high commissions or consulates around the world, and our clients.

 

What did you do before you became an International Trade Adviser?

My first job after graduating from college just happened to be in international trade, back in the Caribbean.

 

I prepared customs declarations, shipping manifests, and collaborated with suppliers, vessels, shipping agents, importers and exporters across Latin America and the Caribbean, and mainly between the USA and the Caribbean. 

I have now come full circle in international trade, and it may well prove to be my lifetime career.

 

Initially trained by UNCTAD ASYCUDA TRAINMAR Programme while working as a Customs & Tariff clerk in the Caribbean, between Dominica and Barbados, I developed industry and market knowledge about Latin America and the Caribbean economies.

 

After participating in UNCTAD training, I assisted in the piloting, rollout and implementation of the Automated System for Customs Data, ASYCUDA, within the Caribbean Common Market, CARICOM. 

Later, upon completing studies at the University of Miami, and moving to the UK, I initially engaged in public policy development and delivery at the national and regional levels. This would culminate in my role as the West Midlands Regional Economic Strategy Manager.

Immediately prior to joining the Department for International Trade, I worked as an independent International Trade Business Development consultant.

Which countries have you visited?

I was born in the Commonwealth of Dominica, not to be confused with the Dominican Republic. 

An ex-British colony, Dominica was a part of the old British West Indies Federation, is a member of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, and the CARICOM Single Market Economy.

 

Having both British and Dominica/CARICOM CSME citizenships, mean that the world is my oyster. I have therefore visited several Caribbean nations, as well as several countries in Western Europe.

The USA was one of my earliest travel destinations outside of the Caribbean for educational and business purposes. 

Later a visit to Brazil, where I provided support to the UN Sustainable Development Conference, Rio+20 Earth Summit, was a major diplomatic lesson in international relations, negotiations and development. 

A month spent in India gave me direct market insight into the different cultural and business practices across the different regions.

 

Visits to North Africa for business purposes were also very insightful. My most successful trip was my participation in what the then British Ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, described as, “one of the UK’s biggest trade delegation to Egypt to date.”

 

Working closely with our UK trade envoy to Egypt, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, the Overseas Trade Delegation to Egypt was made up of four missions and included circa 50 companies from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Energy Industries Council. 

What kind of advice and support do you offer your clients?

Advice and support to businesses can range from very specific to rather comprehensive. 

The DIT equips me with a basket of prescribed internationalisation and export growth tools of support to deliver to businesses, dealing with every aspect of the exporting journey.

 

However, businesses may usually have specific needs and requests for achieving their export and growth target. This, therefore, requires a dynamic approach from me as the ITA, as to how I present and provide export support which could be generic, bespoke or a combination of both.

My resources and tools to support the export and growth of my clients could therefore come from DIT HQ in London, DIT West Midlands, The Midlands Engine, and the wider international DIT network at the British Foreign Office around the world, along with approved DIT partner service providers in the private sector here in the UK or overseas.

My official role as an International Trade Adviser is, therefore, to engage with the business, diagnose the export potential and needs of that business, and broker the appropriate services, be it from the Government or the private sector to achieve export growth or trade continuity for that business. 

My intervention and support, therefore, involve problem-solving as an international trade trouble shooter, providing support towards new or increased international ventures such as in-market support for finding agents, distributors, or setting up overseas.

 

Facilitating market research and business intelligence service and being a mentor to the business while holding the client’s hand through the exporting hurdles.

What skills do you need as an ITA?

Prioritise, synchronise, fraternise, organise. 

The Department for International Trade is a very fast-paced organisation. International Trade is a very dynamic and interconnected global activity, dependent on large amounts of information flows, market research, economic analysis, business intelligence, country information, global and regional economic trends, risks analyses, business and trade opportunities.

 

All of which need to be made sense of by the ITA for informing and advising the client.

An ITA must therefore be well-mannered with sound temperament and pleasant demeanour, diplomatic in his/ her approach, have good attention for detail, be a patient listener, a strategic thinker, balanced with a great sense of alacrity. 

I am constantly trolling through large chunks of information from various sources to get the best solution and to give the smartest advice to my clients, in as timely a manner as possible.

What do you like about your role?

The satisfaction from seeing a company grow over the years under your mentorship and client management is very encouraging – it feels personal. Having a company appreciate and acknowledge the difference you make for them is the icing on the cake. 

I am by nature a people person, so I truly enjoy the client meeting, the public speaking and making presentations on behalf of DIT. Engaging in markets through trade missions and international exhibitions truly bring home the international experience and help build knowledge.

Tell us about your clients?

Many of the companies that I work with are manufacturers. Here in the Black Country, our manufactures are either producing a finished good or they are supply components into the manufacturing industry overseas.

 

Some examples include valves and heaters for the oil & gas industry provided by Birwelco Ltd in Halesowen. Chemicals for use in the automotive industry produced by Rozone Ltd in Wednesbury.

 

Bearings used in the mining and extractive industry made by Bri-Mac Ltd in Dudley. Marine and propeller shafts built for the defence industry by Somers Forge Ltd in Halesowen. And quite literally the high-tension nuts and bolts for the energy industries made by SFC-Europe Ltd in Wolverhampton.

 

All these are examples of manufactures of key components for the manufacturing industry overseas. Some products go into direct usage while others form a part of a finished good built and assembled outside the UK with additional components. 

And finally, what advice would you give a company looking to export into new markets?

Companies looking to export are advised to contact their International Trade Adviser as the starting point for engaging with the Department for International Trade.

Having a great product or service for export is only half the battle. Understanding foreign markets, different business practices, terms of payments, international shipping arrangements, logistics, international competitors, and the different arrangements or routes to getting your products or services to these markets, all require time, money, information, knowledge and human resources. 

It is therefore important to plan and develop an export strategy in order to be fully prepared for the export journey. While the enthusiasm and eagerness to dash out into the big world of potential demand may be tempting, it is necessary to be as informed and armed as possible in order to achieve success. The rewards are great but so are the risks, which we help you to mitigate through planning. 

Contact Gerald to discuss the growth and expansion of your exports at gerald.latouche@mobile.trade.gov.uk 

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