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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016, in Mobile, Ala.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

Global Commerce Insider occasionally seeks input from leaders on vital issues that affect our businesses and economy in a global context.

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States, coming after his campaign emphasizing an anti-trade stand, leaves Canadian businesses that export south of the border with many questions. For example, how will trade be affected, will there be new tariffs, and will the whole process become more complicated and laborious?

Though businesses will have to wait until Mr. Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20 to see what the full impact will be, being prepared for all eventualities is a smart move for anyone. Chris Jacobs, a managing partner with Opportunity Northwest, a Bellingham, Wash.-based consultancy that helps Canadian businesses expand or relocate south of the border, and Andrew Black, founder and chief executive officer of BrandProject, a Toronto and New York City-based company that partners with startups, share their views on the subject.

From the perspective of Canadian businesses exporting to the U.S., what was the first thing that came to mind when the election results became clear?

Andrew Black: It raises questions around things like taxation, talent, tariffs, currency and contingencies on what you would do to deal with any changes in those areas. I think people are going to need to pay close attention to ensure that they can continue to be successful in the U.S. market. People are going to have to be more adaptable, they're going to have to be more flexible and creative to meet the changing trade winds that could happen.

Chris Jacobs: I was shocked. In speaking with my partners who were at an American Chamber of Commerce event in Vancouver, the business owners who were there were also shocked. My partner Paul Grey said that the general feeling in the room was fear about what was coming over the horizon, what it meant for their businesses.

How can Canadian businesses best prepare themselves so they are as flexible as possible when it comes to trade with U.S. markets?

AB: Look at where the manufacturing is done today for your business and what percentage of your business you export to the U.S. In the case of Awake Chocolate (one of the companies that BrandProject works with), about 90 per cent of its products is shipped to the U.S. It's all made in Canada, so I would say know your business well and do an assessment of your business.

Look at the U.S. market and decide strategically if it's going to be a key growth driver for your future and if it is, think about how under a Trump government you would be successful if things change dramatically, if tariffs increased and were put on products and it became more difficult to ship certain products into the U.S. And if all those things happened, how you would make your product for the U.S. market. And think about your manufacturing options in the States for those kinds of goods or services.

There are just a lot of moving parts, and Canadian businesses need to be aware and get ahead of it and think strategically about the potential scenarios.

CJ: Speculation is really difficult at this time. Any of the negatives that Trump pointed out were really directed at Mexico. The North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA), if you look at the economic numbers, has been generally good for the U.S. In fact, Canada is the No. 1 export market for 35 states. That's pretty big and I don't think Mr. Trump is going to disrupt that. I think that there's pretty big opportunity if he follows through on a lot of what he said in his campaign, and he puts in place protectionist laws. That would create a vacuum in the U.S. that Canada and Canadian companies would be able to take advantage of.

What Canadian companies who want to do business in the U.S. could do to improve their flexibility, depending on what happens, is create a U.S. subsidiary and have that employ a U.S. agent or agents. So then you've got a foothold and you could still repatriate some of the money, but you're creating jobs for Americans and that is something that Trump would be loath to hurt.

Should Canadian businesses worry when it comes to trade with the U.S., particularly given Mr. Trump's stated attitude toward NAFTA in his campaigning?

AB: I don't think so. Ultimately products and services are purchased by consumers, and businesses and people buy the product or service that they think is the best. If Canadians can continue to produce outstanding products, people are going to buy them no matter where they were produced and where the company is located. Therefore it's incumbent on all of us to make sure that we create outstanding businesses that can compete with the U.S.

CJ: I think it was President Barack Obama who said there's a big difference between campaigning and actually running the country. I think that the first 100 days will be very telling, who he puts in place in his Cabinet. But I don't think that Canadian companies need to be afraid. Canada and the U.S. are still each other's top trading partners, and I think that, economically, a decision to disrupt that would be devastating and I don't believe that that kind of decision would be made.

Are potential obstacles to trade with the U.S. under a Trump administration offset or mitigated at all by the recently signed CETA trade deal with the European Union?

AB: I think the world is going global and Canada needs to find ways of being successful selling to European countries as well as with the U.S. But the U.S. is our No. 1 export partner by such a huge margin that we need to be successful there. So it's a great thing that we have this new deal that was just signed recently with Europe, but we can't look at that deal and think that that's somehow going to offset things that are happening with America.

CJ: It may be – more so for East Coast companies. That does not change the strength of the U.S.-Canadian business or economic relationship. It adds to Canadian businesses' choices.

Responses have been edited and condensed.