60 second interview

Face to face | 4 July 2016

TFR Talks to ICC Austria’s Maximilian Burger-Scheidlin at the ICC Banking Commission annual meeting in Johannesburg, about ICC transactional support for developing economy importers and exporters

How did ICC Austria come about?

I trained as a lawyer and after my studies, I worked for an industry and machine building association, travelling to Sudan, Saudi, Kuwait, Malasia, Korea, Philippines, Japan and Australia. I helped machine builders and turbine manufacturers market their goods in ‘difficult’ countries. This frontline work involved not just the marketing aspect of connecting people, but also tackling the legal aspects of the negotiations on both sides and I did this for around 20 years before joining the ICC. In my early days, you could say I advised companies on tax planning – since 1999 the tax regime has changed and that would be regarded as corruption now. I was an active corrupter!

Why is this different from other national committees? 

I brought to the table the hands-on approach from incoterms to dispute avoidance to corruption recognition and how to deal with it – so I advise on how to prevent white-collar crime. My experience in the field brought me to the point where I could set up a practical ICC national committee that tackled issues such as rulemaking and letters of credit and how you can do better business without a bribe – even in countries where this is ‘business as usual’. 

Most ICC national committees are concentrated in countries where large multinational corporations are headquartered and the information need is less basic and more policy based. Austria is not one of these so we have concentrated on medium-sized importers and exporters – there are parallel types of companies all over emerging Africa. 

So you help make deals happen?

We tell Austrian companies we are their partner for international trade and legal issues. This covers the contract itself, the contract that needs financing, the negotiations – not just in advance of signing the contract, but ensuring that it is signed in good faith and that it is implemented in the spirit of future dispute avoidance.

If you negotiate well, the other side will not dare to ask for a bribe. Compliance training tends to concentrate on what you are not allowed to do, but often fails to explain how to do the contract and find a positive way to make the deal happen. We advise on whatever is needed to implement an import or export contract.

Surely with trade finance you deal with documents and not the counterparties?

If you have a contract that has come into force via corruption it is not valid, so what have you financed? You can’t be repaid from a contract that is void. If you don’t do these checks yourself we recommend finding a partner who can do this for you, such as a national committee of the ICC. I have learned so much from many companies doing great business. 

Part of my work in difficult countries is explaining how you can increase your profits and lower the risk through non-corruption. If you want to maximise profits across three months, corruption (such as giving a bribe) is an easy solution. But if you want to maximise profits after a lifetime it is completely different game. Key suppliers won’t supply corrupt companies anymore and I have turned around companies in countries such as China and Kazakhstan who have seen how profits can be maximised without resorting to corruption.

Is each national committee very different?

Seven years ago the deputy director of ICC Nigeria went for training in Paris, on to the UK and then came to Austria. She said that she could implement what she had learned from us in Nigeria but not the policy-related material. I advised her to hire a recent retiree to do the contract work. That Nigerian committee is much stronger than it was but there is a lot of room for improvement. 

While most national committees are independent, I think there is too little practical guidance. In Germany you do need someone strong in advocacy and policy work to lead the national committee, but in Rwanda you need someone strong on import and export deals, not a policy person. Thanks to the new leadership, we are getting there – but we are some way off where we should be.

My hope is it that trade finance bankers see  a strong ICC national committee as part of their risk reduction strategy and as far as I can, I will help and go to countries where I am invited


Maximilian Burger-Scheidlin is the executive director of ICC Austria

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