Export control tips

Four steps to managing change, uncertainty, and the unexpected

Did you predict recent political or security developments? Change is now fast and unpredictable. How to establish robust and dynamic export control compliance programs.

We live in an era of political uncertainty. We should now expect the unexpected.

Not many predicted that Donald Trump would become President of the United States (although an episode of The Simpsons from 2000 – “Bart to the Future” – referred to an outgoing President Trump 😉). The referendum vote in favor of Brexit also came as a surprise to many, as did the loss of the Conservative parliamentary majority in the recent UK general election.

Change and uncertainty are in the air.

During a speech in 2016, President Trump even promised an “unpredictable” US foreign policy if he were to win the presidency. “We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” he told his audience at a Washington DC hotel. “We are totally predictable.”

Who saw it coming? Cuba and Qatar

An unpredictable foreign policy inevitably makes export control regulations more subject to change. It also makes the job of export control practitioners that bit harder. Keeping an eye on the news for foreign policy changes is therefore always advisable.

For example, on June 16, President Trump announced his intention to reverse some Obama-era policies aimed at easing the longstanding embargo on Cuba. “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” Trump said. His policy on what he has called a “terrible and misguided deal” with Cuba is in sharp contrast to that of the Obama administration. The words “effective immediately” are particularly interesting for any company trying to work within the regulations.

Recent international changes on embargoes also include those imposed by Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations (later joined by others) on Qatar. The picture here is somewhat confusing and unpredictable. President Trump initially seemed to indicate US approval of the action saying that: “We have to stop the funding of terrorism.” But, the US Department of State later “issued a stinging rebuke” to those nations and stated that it was “mystified” that no precise reasons for the embargo had been provided.

Everything changes and nothing stands still

Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated that: “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” The first word in that sentence perhaps needs particular emphasis. Everything changes.

Unpredictable foreign policy is just one factor in export control change. But there are many others. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

High dynamism prevails in the global security environment. Any change in this environment can directly impact financial sanctions, export controls, international supply chains, and business decisions regarding certain markets. Just in recent months we have seen:

  • a continued series of ballistic missile tests by the North Korean regime;
  • terror attacks in London, Manchester, and elsewhere;
  • and, ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.


New product development and rapid technology advances also require us to review whether export control compliance procedures are appropriate and sufficient. For example, the seamless, intangible, and borderless transfer of data brings increased challenges for export control practitioners. And, technologies such as 3D printing, drones, and fully unmanned automated distribution centers will push compliance programs of the future far beyond what they are today.

Legislation is, of course, also subject to regular change. As such, it is another area where companies face challenges. In our interconnected, modern world where businesses source from all around the world and sell in a global marketplace, companies additionally need to look at evolving export control legislation in multiple jurisdictions.

What it takes to be effective today

Change is inevitable. Uncertainty, unpredictability, and the unexpected are now an integral feature of an export controls practitioner’s role. But, how do you deal with change efficiently and effectively?

Having an effective export control compliance program in place is fundamental to this and should include focus elements such as:

  1. Board-level commitment
  2. Training and awareness
  3. Written policies
  4. Recordkeeping
  5. Self-audits
  6. Restricted-party screening

You can find more details in this practical export control guide for executives in our Media Center

Managing change: four steps and repeat

But, managing change requires more than having a compliance program in place. Any compliance program today must be configured to cater for changing policies, legislation, technologies, and so on. It must be robust and adaptable enough to deal with uncertainty and unpredictability.

Consider incorporating the following steps into your compliance procedures.

Four steps cycle
Four steps cycle

Change is inevitable: so plan ahead

Export control compliance is a challenging and fast-moving area. It’s important that you not only keep an eye on changes and trends, but also act when needed: now! Technological advances, increasing threats, and every-changing legislation all mean that things will get increasingly complex and challenging. And more dynamic.

Implementing an effective export control compliance program that is robust enough to cope with current challenges and is flexible enough to facilitate future requirements is of utmost importance in protecting your business operations and reputation.

Planning for change, uncertainty, and the unexpected must form a key part of any compliance program. As Robert C. Gallagher said: “Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” 😉

If you have any comments or remarks, I’d be happy to exchange with you. You can get in touch with me via LinkedIn.

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