In an era of intensive global interconnectedness – understanding the intricacies of international sanctions is essential for businesses. We are excited to welcome our colleague Ngosong Fonkem to our next Legal Lunch Byte where he will discuss the complex world of international trade with our host Jonathan Bench. The conversation will center on Ngosong’s deep knowledge of global sanctions and legal considerations, he will discuss their real-world impact on business activities, and hopefully offer strategies for ensuring effective compliance. The Legal Lunch Byte is ‘the most exciting legal talk show on the internet’ – is now on Spotify as a podcast too. Check us out there as well – never miss an episode! Reminiscent of friendly networking lunches or the cherished brown bag sessions of yore, our weekly talk show serves up a delightful plate of legal insights and knowledge, spiced with humor and relatable banter.

Thanks everyone for joining us today I’m very happy to host one of my co-workers Ngosong Fonkem who is currently in my home state of Wisconsin we’re going to talk a little bit today about his career path and the things that are on his radar as an international trade lawyer Ngosong so happy to have you on the Legal Lunch Byte today thank you so much Jonathan for inviting me to the show so let’s talk about your background you are an international trade lawyer that’s different from me as an international transactions lawyer so please tell everyone what you do and what’s interesting about your practice um I primarily advise individuals and companies on how to navigate uh domestic and foreign legal issues and the management of geopolitical risk from an import export perspective and I’d like to emphasize um political risk because um the reple effects of any political events uh extends far beyond the immediate occurrence so understanding and anticipating or political risk is not only a uh business strategy it’s also a survival skill and um it’s only when you’re able to understand the policy uh driving the law it is then that you’re able to anticipate where things are headed from a trade perspective and then you can begin to put processes in place to manage uh the risk and the impact on your business and to be able to adapt survive and thrive in a in a very turbulent environment it’s great and so in terms of typical clients for you I know we’ve talked about the energy producers those uh involved in global Shipping what are some of your typical clients and what kinds of issues are you helping them with on the on the global stage um they vary um I would say it typically is driven by geopolitical events I know um at the uh at the tail end of 2017 with with the Trump Administration coming into office and imposing a number of tariffs on China I had a lot of domestic clients as well as foreign clients uh wanting to know how they could sort of navigate uh the tariffs region as well as uh find uh creative ways to mitigate uh paying duties and then as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine with uh the United States and a number of Western companies imposing a number of of of trade restrictions on Russia um again a lots of Russian clients a lots of foreign clients from South Africa reached out to me to help them sort of navigate us sanctions uh regime and those of the European Union and the UK and and so and then I have a fairly uh robust shipping practice basically due to my my background having had a degree in American law Law School as well as working as an Oil and Gas Energy consultant in Southeast Asia so as a result of that I’ve been able to sort of Leverage some of those experience to get a number of of clients ship owners as well as nvcc that are shipping lots of uh products overseas so in a nutshell uh that’s sort of what I do that’s great so what are some of the biggest risks uh that should be on everyone’s radar for companies that are engaged in global trade I mean we’ve got definitely have the US election this year I know India is in an election right now what are some of the other uh areas of this geopolitical risk that you’re focused on right now I I think um the ongoing geopolitical tension um between the United States and China for Global Leadership in economics and technology is an area that um we should be watching very closely and this tension is cleaving uh Global Supply Chain at least I believe it is into two with the United States on the one hand and the Chinese light supply chain on the other hand so what means is that if you are a company involved in international trade crossb trade um there are a few areas of r that you should be watching very closely and the key being for any American investor is any Investments That rely on uh Chinese manufacturing Chinese technology and and under this new environment you now need to um to be able to look at your supply agreements uh your operational practices to make sure that they comply with the United States and partner countries uh labor and environmental standards now if you have significant operations in let’s say China let’s say you are of the world of the world you also then would need to balance your obligation to comply with US law against your obligation to comply with Chinese law or otherwise you run the race of of uh being uh dink by China side retaliatory tars as well as sanctions and and to take things uh just to put things into perspective um look at uh looking at the force label law for example um we claim that uh China is um forcing his ethnic minorities into slave labor camps and we passed a law that bans um us companies from doing business with um uh Chinese companies that are Dom out in the Jing Jang region which is where the Yhughur minorities live and the law also uh we also ban uh American companies from doing business with companies that are sourcing from that region now China obviously disagrees with our allegation and they have gone one step further and they’ve passed a law to essentially uh protect your domestic industry by by giving those companies Chinese companies um the right to sue foreign companies that uh forgot doing business with them due to this band and the law also makes it a a criminal offense for the Chinese companies uh who are for now you can see that as a result of of of this conundrum where where doing business with one company well how difficult it now may become to comply with um one country’s trade laws when doing so would cause you to break another country’s uh trade laws so that’s that’s a major risk right stuck between rocket a hard place depending on which side you’re lined up in that’s that’s so fascinating and of course I I follow China quite a bit as well but it’s fun to hear the issues from your perspective as opposed to my perspective it’s very very interesting so let’s turn topics for a second to the ongoing war in the Middle East I know this is on everyone’s mind um a lot going on with uh Iran attacking Israel just a day or two ago um and then we have even before that we have the houthi firing missiles on us UK and Israeli ships uh what impact is that having on us trade I mean there aren’t there are maybe I’m oversimplifying it but there aren’t that many critical trade corridors in the world and it seems like there are uh issues with with all of them right now at least you know whether they’re kind of simmering low simmering issues or whether you take the Middle East it’s much more of an explosive situation um that is a very important issue um Jonathan because normally about 12% of global trade passes through uh the Red Sea uh the SWS Canal but due to the ongoing issue in the Middle East and the hooes effectively imposing an effective blockade on on the Red Sea that’s causing major shipping companies to uh re your business operations away from the SWS Canal around the cap of Good Hope Africa into a predominantly uh Western Europe um so if you just think about it if you have um you a a local manufacturer here in the United States and you have a piece of equipment on one of those ships uh that could essentially cause you to to delay uh to delay your manufacturing process or perhaps even um shutter all together bearing in mind that uh the additional travel from the cap of Good Hope to the intended destination adds about 10 to 15 uh 10 to 30 days given the speed of the ship as well as uh the destination of of the ship now that is not only impacting um uh a Europe uh Asia trade but also uh us Asia trade because a lot of the ships the cargo that uh that Services the West the east coast of the United States typically would go through uh the SW Canal the Mediterranean Sea the Atlantic Ocean and then service the Port of Baltimore which is going through some trouble right now New York Port North Fork Virginia Miami etc etc um now with the situation in the Middle East escalating over the past 15 days or so that adds a new dimension uh to the disruption keeping in mind that about 40% of global trade uh in in oil supply goes through the straet of hus which is the facto controlled by Iran so if this so This development um if not tamper down could have significant impact on global trade if cool heads do not Prevail amazing and that’s and that’s with uh that’s Middle East focus and of course we have strait of Malaka South China Sea um and then the Taiwan Straits all kind very much wrapped up into us China relations and and what happens in there you know with Japan and um and the Philippines aligning more with the US on uh on defense issues um it’s been you know I’m cautiously optimistic that that cooler heads will prevail and that that part of the world will not um will not take fire but it’s uh it is a head scratcher everyone I’ve talked to everyone’s uh everyone’s watching that I agree I I think um it it’s getting to be quite dangerous uh on the international trade front there so hopefully Kola will prevail and of course the shipping companies need need no excuse to jack up shipping rates as well as insurance rates right and and even just the gas at the pump I know right now in Wisconsin uh gas prices are about $4 and and 50 cents a gallon right now and if the situations were to escalate we could be looking at 10 12 13 dollars a gallon which is not good for the average American here that’s right it’s a good thing you and I are Runners though it is hard to run back and forth with your grocery grocery store right I agree I agree well I mean it’s um it’s it makes for a lean diet that’s for sure it sure does so let’s switch to Africa for our last we got three or four minutes left um I know you do a fair amount of work in Africa your native country is Cameroon of course uh and you grew up in the US but what do you see is happening in Africa of course we can talk for hours about this um but I know you have a much better pulse on it than I do so uh what is on your radar right now uh I I actually think Africa is ready to and I I think the implementation of the first phase of the African Continental free trade area in January 2021 is a major development that we should be watching very closely um the agreement was aimed at um gradually abolishing crossborder trade in tariffs on about 90% of goods and services across the continent and um uh it is it is staged to be uh fully implemented by 2030 and and once it’s fully implemented um it has the potential uh to be the world’s largest uh free trading block in the world with a market size of about 1.3 billion people and a combined gross uh domestic product of about 2.5 trillion and and this is important because up until now uh one of the major trade barriers for any foreign investors uh to doing business in Africa had been due to the varying degree of of infrastructural capabilities um trade tariffs and policies and and and a number of local policies that def from country to Country so one of the main goals of the agreement has been to sort of fix that problem as well as also facilitate in trade uh within uh the uh the uh countries of the continent which has been a major issue uh bearing in mind that for whatever reason most African countries have traditionally chose to do business with uh I guess you could say some of their colonial Masters then do business with your neighbors so so one of of the goals of the African continent trade uh free trade area was to sort of fix that problem that’s great and what have you read anything about the infrastructure I know that people I’ve been reading have said African infrastructure is still an issue do you feel like do you do you have any sense on a timeline for that and when it will you know kind of how far along is the infrastructure at this point and where you know where is it where is it being built where where are some of the easier markets to access let’s say for companies that are on the outside um for my infrastructure perspective I think it varies right from from country to Country Now if you are a a a quote unquote middle economic country like um Nigeria South Africa Egypt Morocco the infrastructure is quite good now if you were to be looking at doing business in let’s say South Sudan which have been a few times for conferences is not so much it’s not so good but but I I think um I think there’s there’s a lot of opportunities in Africa just given the fact that um it’s it’s got some of the fastest growing economies in the world I guess prior to covid-19 uh covid-19 yes but but but I think that it’s um you’ve got a lot a lot of people entering the middle class the consumer base is expanding um people are getting richer so I think there’s lots of opportunities for any American companies that are looking to invest in the continent that’s great well go on we’re at time want to thank you so much for spending a few minutes with me it’s always fun to catch up I know we work on projects together but it’s fun to it’s fun to spit ball like this and uh me to hit you with some questions that keep me in the know and and hopefully our audience members enjoyed it as well thank you so much and for those of you who are tuning in next week we’re going to have our colleague Shannon Brandao from Portugal on uh she runs the China boss newsletter um keeping Pace with the latest China news and she also is focusing on investors who want to buy real estate in Portugal maybe as a path to a golden Visa so should be very interest interesting conversation so we will see you next week