CBCC interview with…Michaela Chrtova, Head of Economic and Commercial Section, Embassy of the Czech Republic in London

On her arrival in the UK during lockdown, first impressions about London, the pandemic impact on her job, Brexit and so much more…

Can you please share a bit about your background?

I studied law and international business at the University of Economics and Charles University in Prague and then I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the US. I enjoyed studying abroad and wanted to do something internationally related, for example to work at some pro-export company. In the end, when I finished my studies, I got a job at the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic in the Section for European Affairs. There, I was also coordinating national plans for business administration, so my agenda was always tied to business. Then I moved to a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) where I was supporting exporting companies. In a way, it was a back office of what I do now, developing and establishing the network of economic diplomats. When there, I could apply for openings at embassies and one was in London, so I ended up here. In August 2020.

How has it been working in lockdown all the time?

Just like everybody else’s, my day is filled with video calls and sitting in front of a computer screen. But due to these restrictions it is impossible for Czech companies to come and seek partners here in person. All is now online, so more challenging. The same applies to taking UK partners to the Czech Republic on business. Since I arrived, I have been really focusing on getting to know the UK market better, learning as much as possible.

What are your first impressions about London?

I know Notting Hill and the Hyde Park as it’s close to the embassy! I had been in London a few times before I moved here so I know it - as a tourist only. But of course, I haven’t been able to get the feel for everyday life. Since mid-October, we have been in lockdown which turned into hard lockdown in November. Today, on 12 April, we are getting out of it to a certain extent, so I am looking forward to some normality.

Were you getting lots of Brexit enquiries last year?

My job is to support Czech companies on the UK market – either in the field of exporting or establishing their presence in the UK. That of course changed due to COVID-19. The questions coming in were twofold – on the pandemics and Brexit, for example, whether export to the UK will be possible, COVID-19 restrictions, visa requirements, and others. To help Czech businesses to understand Brexit, we also organised a lot of webinars.

And now, more business-related enquiries are starting to pop up - the attention is shifting back to the market itself. The UK is one of the biggest export markets for the Czech Republic and that does not change with Brexit. On the other hand, with the pandemic, Czech companies have begun to look to export goods and services to new markets.

Did Brexit mean a big change for companies?

Lots of companies trade with countries outside of the EU, so it’s similar for them. For small companies only trading in the EU Brexit can mean a big change and some of them can give up, the new paperwork can be too much. There are requirements when it comes to custom declarations and other necessities. But the same goes for UK small companies. I believe they have to assess the requirements and take a decision.  

Are these new rules complex?

It depends on what kind of goods companies offer. It does not have to be too complicated. But it costs money if a company needs professional help or even wishes to outsource this service. If you never had to prepare such paperwork, you may not even have employees or expertise to do that. I’d also say that it depends on how important the market is for a particular company. And sometimes it is not just about paperwork but about taxes on goods that don´t fulfil the rules of origin rules. The Agreement between the EU and the UK helped a lot and made some things easier, but there is additional work involved.

How long is your mission here?

our missions are usually set for 4 years. Usually within few months you can learn how a country works, but since everybody works from home it is hard to get to the partners on British side. Once I have the contacts, as the UK is digitally quite advanced, it works. That’s where I see the CBCC helping too as it was established a long time ago and connects business people. In other countries, my colleagues might be facing additional issues to meet people virtually. This is not a problem in the UK. For my role, personal contacts and networking are still important, I am looking forward to meeting people face to face.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

I like travelling and hiking, so I look forward to exploring this country, going to the seaside. And of course, London is an amazing place to discover. The only downside is that there are no mountains here, so I may have to go abroad to ski once we can travel.

How would you define yourself in three words?

Determined, hard-working, friendly, outgoing. It’s four I know!

Last word?

I really can’t wait to be able to invite businesspeople and companies to some of our in-person events at the embassy that we hope we will be able to reinstate in autumn this year. We are preparing business missions in several sectors – space, defence and security, nanotechnologies and biotech to name a few. Some are in cooperation with the CBCC. There are currently ongoing discussions on this topic, so let’s hope we will have some clarity soon.

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.

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