Trade relations matter now more than ever before

Our company has had a long history of belonging to trade associations; my grandfather spoke in almost hallowed tones of his first visit to America in the 1950s with the National Farmers Union. Trade associations gave businesses credibility on the international stage and opened doors that would be intimidating for single companies to tackle alone.

Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, Grundon Waste Management
Neil Grundon, deputy chairman, Grundon Waste Management

My first independent visit to America came courtesy of the now renamed SWANA, or the Solid Waste Association of North America. I was just 22 years old and travelled from state to state staying with host families who all had the waste Industry in common. Many remain friends to this day and it certainly opened my eyes to the wonderful opportunities this industry provides around the world.

In the 1980s, my father forged similar links with DWA, the German waste association. The Germans were especially forgiving of our rather dismal language skills and keen to forge new business links because they had products that were vastly superior to what we had in the UK.

As a result of those introductions, Grundon was one of the first companies to introduce the now ubiquitous wheelie bin from Germany into the UK market.

It seems to me, one of the great strengths of our industry is that wherever you go in the world, garbage men are generally open and honest people, willing to share business ideas with each other and work towards common goals.

They may lack the finesse or highbrow ideas of our political elite (not sure that’s something to aspire to!), but they can sure as hell spot a business opportunity when they see one. In fact, I rather regret telling one North American company about collecting florescent tubes, without asking if he had a contract with the New York subway (he did).

All of which brings me closer to these shores and the need to make the most of opportunities in the European markets.

I have previously called for more opportunity to set our own waste legislation and been critical of the time it has taken Brussels to set new EU-wide targets and goals.

Indeed, I was asked recently why Grundon did not make representations to the EU on waste and resource policy and rather flippantly replied “because there is no market for us there”.

After all, when you consider, for example, that of the 50% of the French market in private hands, 75% is controlled by just two companies, you can see where I’m coming from.

We must not let that distract us however. These sort of protectionist policies are not the exception that proves the rule and that’s why now, more than ever, we must look to the “new” Europe and the ample opportunities for future growth I believe will be there.

I would say that nothing will happen overnight (albeit last Thursday’s vote proved it can).

Our advantage now is that British industry has an opportunity to shape waste and environmental policy rather than simply be on the receiving end of Brussels’ bureaucracy.

We must continue to wave the global flag on the international stage, but I also want to see us embrace much closer collaboration with our like-minded partners in Europe, to foster new relationships and share ideas for the benefit of everyone in this sector.

I’ll sign off with a note to self: must practice my language skills.

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