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Exporting & Importing in a VUCA World


As I reflect on the world’s reactions to Brexit, the IFCBA May conference in Shanghai, and the CSCB Ontario conference in mid-June, I am struck by the increasing complexity of trade. The demands put on Exporters, Importers and Customs Brokers made me think of VUCA.

VUCA is a military acronym that is now frequently used in business. And, boy, does it apply to our industry. VUCA is short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.  It really means, “Hey, it’s wild out there!”


Complexity VUCA

Here are the four VUCA challenges and four unique responses.


Unexpected and unstable, although not necessarily hard to understand.

Economic swings in Canada, the U.S. and globally (Brexit, China, Greece); Currency fluctuations that affect imports and exports differently; Terrorism; Politics (Trump/Clinton & TPP, Trump attacking NAFTA),

Response: VISION

Know the issues; Educate and train staff; Invest in information. Work with experts and industry associations.


Unpredictable, unknown outcomes, cause and effect unknown.

Brexit; U.S. Politics; Emerging markets; Terror; Weather

Understand the context, and develop contingencies. Share information. Work with experts and industry associations.


Many interconnected parts and variables, information may be understandable, or predictable, but the volume can be overwhelming.

Technology (ACE, CARM, ARL, e-Manifest, Single Window); FTAs (TPP, CETA, TIPP, Brexit); Government Demands (FDA, CFIA, CBP, CBSA, Security, Terrorism), Exporters & Importers demand real time messages and data, personalized reports, secure portals; Ongoing Risk Management: Exporters & Importers juggle competing priorities of Efficiency/Speed, Security & Profitability.

Response: CLARITY
Stay focused on what is important and what will make a difference. Remain flexible. Specialize. Use data. Work with experts and associations to aggregate data. Communicate issues and collaborate to solve problems.


Causal relations not clear; don’t know what don’t know; lack of information, easy to misinterpret.

Politics: TPP (implications by sector), CETA, TIPP, Brexit (implications by sector); Government decisions: (Canada-U.S. lumber agreement, G20 increase in trade restrictions), Terrorism

Response: AGILITY
Don’t let ambiguity cause decision paralysis. Innovate, and test ideas. Consult with experts and associations to analyze, collaborate and leverage opportunities. Partner with your supply chain for solutions.


We need great partnerships more than ever: strong, trusting client–broker partnerships, integrated, smooth supply chain partnerships, deep collaboration with industry associations. And we need to make sure our industry continues to develop talent, provide ongoing training, and continue to improve the regulation of the global customs broker industry.

Willson International Angela Collins

This article is written by Angela Collins, Vice President, Canadian and U.S. Brokerage Operations & Regulatory Affairs.