Tales from the Road - The Luck of the Draw



The timing of my training delivery in Kosovo last June was interesting, to say the least. One of the themes of my training to a group of Kosovan export consultants from 28-30 June was ‘how to trade with the European Union’, five days after the UK had voted to leave. The referendum decision was met with incredulity by the delegates because Kosovo had only signed up to a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on 27th October 2015. Their need for closer ties with the EU contrasted with the UK’s apparent need to distance itself.


In spite of my personal belief that it would have been better to remain in the EU and reform from within, the dye had been cast, and it had not come as a total surprise. Coincidentally in October 2015 I had written an article that set out a number of the reasons why, from the standpoint of someone with 30 years of international trade experience, and I had done that after predicting that the referendum would result in the vote to leave. Around the same time, I predicted that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States and that the England football team would be knocked out of the European Championships by a minor country. So when I arrived in Kosovo on the evening of 27th June to watch Iceland’s historic victory, I became concerned that my third prediction would also one day be confirmed. I have since given up making predictions. It’s a dangerous game.


Imagine the scene. The trainer arrives to deliver three days of international trade training, to help improve both technique and awareness within the group, and all the delegates want to know is why England failed in the European Championships, and why the UK voted to leave the EU! In the end I had to put a guillotine on EU and England gags, and went on to develop a great rapport with 22 intelligent, positive, and very nice people.


I rarely watch television, and have become largely disenchanted with television news, but I do like to be kept in touch with world events. The 24 hour news culture seems to have replaced intelligent reporting and serious debate with a rush to be first and repeated soundbites. I arrived back in my hotel room after my busy first day and spent a few hours tidying up the presentations for the following day before ordering a room service meal and switching on the TV news. The main headline was of the terrorist attack in Ataturk Airport, where I had transferred little over 24 hours before.


On receiving my flight itinerary for the Kosovo trip I had found it a little odd that I was being sent via Istanbul to get to Kosovo but it was probably the most cost effective option, also calling in on Belgrade en route to take a boneshaker of an aircraft to my final destination. I think it was a nine hour journey door to door. In the two hours or more in the crowded passenger lounge at Istanbul airport, I watched as kids ran in and out of the security doors unchallenged, bus drivers walked in and out, and smokers stood outside chatting. I had travelled to Istanbul on many previous occasions. While I wasn’t surprised by the ensuing chaos, I did feel more uneasy than usual but passed it off as something that happens when you are tired and grumpy because you can’t get a seat. Little over 24 hours later, 41 people had lost their lives. 


My return flights to Manchester were rescheduled via Vienna, which was a significantly quicker journey. My very early start that day saw me arrive home before noon and gave me some time to reflect on the week’s events. I had arranged to do some music recording on the weekend ahead so I called the producer to confirm timings and related my Istanbul story. Coincidentally, his Uncle Tony had been travelling home from Baghdad via Ataturk at the same time as me and it seemed simultaneously to highlight the fragility of life and that there is such a thing as fate. Many others had not drawn such a lucky card.


Around 7 million business travellers leave from UK airports every year. My contribution to that was three: Kosovo in June, Macedonia in October, and Mongolia in November. Those trips comprised a total of 15 individual flights of varying quality, from the swish Korean Airlines flights between Paris and Seoul to the boneshakers from Belgrade to Prishtina and to and from Ulaanbaatar from Seoul. Travelling is a vital part of international trade because people do business with people, and there is no substitute for a face to face meeting. My have three more overseas trips scheduled for the first 6 months of 2017 and with new clients on board this is likely to be a busy travelling year.

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