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Our solicitor, Anna Ai, reports back from a successful trade mission to Poland.

We get off the plane at Poznań Airport and I see the city for the first time through the eyes of a newcomer. I was a student here, and a journalist – but coming back now, I find myself looking at the city the way my fellow travellers do.

Located in west-central Poland, Poznań is vibrant and young, with good English spoken widely. With 25 higher education institutions, the city is buzzing with youthful ambition – reflective of the country’s international reputation as a hotbed of professional talent.

We’re here for a trade mission organised by the International Trade Forum in Sheffield, with support from Ken Cooke, the city’s then-Master Cutler. We’ve come to explore opportunities for UK businesses in this dynamic and economically stable market.

Starting small, thinking big

We go for our first meal to a quirky restaurant in Poznań’s elegant and busy city square. Over delicious freshly prepared food and Polish wine, I ask my fellow trade mission participants what they hope to get out of this trip.

Approaches vary – some have busy schedules, with pre-booked meetings with potential and current distributors and agents; others prefer to go with the flow.

Nobody here is new to trade missions – they know that building international trade relationships is a matter of trial and error, requiring solid market research. In Poland, good local contacts are essential, as the market is not easily penetrated without someone trusted doing the work on the ground. There is no promise of quick wins, I’m told, and the results of a trade mission can materialise months, even years, later.

But we’re in a good place to lay the groundwork. With approximately 1,000 exhibitors, the trade fair is the largest innovation, technology and machinery event in Central and Eastern Europe. It’s a hub for the latest developments in hydraulics, machine tools, pneumatics, surface technology, transportation, welding technology, work safety, and research and development.

I see major international brands at the event, but interestingly half of the exhibitors are Polish companies. They confirm that, understandably, Germany is often their first trade partner, but there is an appetite for building bridges across the English Channel.

And there is some scope for this. Poland is the 20th largest export market for the UK, but the country has plans to invest heavily in the energy, transport and infrastructure, defence and retail sectors, to name just a few. With 38 million consumers and €85.2 billion allocated to Poland through the EU structural and cohesion fund, it may just offer opportunities worth looking into.

Making business personal

A couple of days into my visit to Poland, I leave Poznań and venture to Warsaw. The capital has a metropolitan feeling – very different from Poznań, a challenger in the fight for international investment, keen to stress its independence from the established ways of Warsaw.

Nonetheless, Warsaw is Poland’s international business hub, and it’s here that I meet representatives from the British Polish Chamber of Commerce and the UK’s Department for International Trade. Each set up to assist their compatriots in building trade connections between the two countries. In Poland, where doing business still relies on personal relationships, knowing people who know people is always a good start.

Putting the pieces into place

Some weeks later, I’m in the reception room at Sheffield’s Cutlers’ Hall with my fellow trade mission participants to share our experiences. (We also share a midday drink of gin at the opening session of Gin Dobry Club, a tradition brought to Sheffield from the trade fair in Poznań – details of which are suitable for another article altogether…) As one would expect, there was a lot of ‘hard selling’ at the trade fair, but there are some success stories already. One attendee has established a new distribution relationship; someone else has rekindled a relationship with their current trade partner.

Another participant shared their experience of utilising Poland’s industrial cluster scheme – a government-driven initiative aimed at concentrating sector-related know-how and expertise – to successfully target trade partners. He had learnt about the clusters from another member of our trade mission while still in Poland.

As another participant mentions their difficulties with communicating with Polish counterparts in English, and the bureaucracy inherent in the country, I already know who in my professional network in Poland may be able to assist. This is what building strong relationships – and generating value for UK businesses – is all about.

This view is shared by my next interlocutor, a fellow lawyer and a corporate partner in one of the largest law firms in Poland. The culture of nourishing trade and business relationships is crucial to succeeding, and not only in Poland. For us as lawyers, having a network of trusted partners internationally is indispensable to being able to offer our clients the service they require at various stages of their international trade journey.