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Being Part of A Family and the Foreign Commercial Service

November 25, 2014

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Bill Kutson is an Officer in the International Trade Administration’s U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service

Note: The International Trade Administration plans to hold an assessment in 2015 through which it will hire a new class of Foreign Commercial Service Officers. We’ll publish a series of articles about ITA’s Foreign Commercial Service to answer questions from people who may be interested in this career opportunity.

Kids play soccer outside a school in Athens.

Schools overseas can help your children make life-long friendships while you serve in the Foreign Service.

Raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Don’t worry – I’m not going to dole out advice on that one…

But one important consideration for anyone considering a career in the Foreign Service is how it will affect your family. My three kids have spent parts of their lives growing up overseas, and I’m here to tell you that the rewards of the experience outweighed any of the challenges we faced as a family.

So here are some observations, in no particular order, to consider about serving abroad with kids:

  • As vehemently opposed as kids may be to moving to a new location, they very well may be just as opposed to leaving when your tour is over.
  • Living abroad is fascinating. What’s more fascinating is experiencing it with your kids. Part of my sons’ Boy Scout archaeology merit badge was earned through visits to the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora in Athens. We also hiked Mt. Olympus. Yes, it is real. Zeus, however, was on “holiday” (it is Greece after all).
  • Your kids will forge life-long friendships with other kids through the Embassy, school, clubs, etc. These are often great springboards for you making new friendships with the kids’ parents.
  • On the first day in her new school after returning to the United States, my daughter casually told the teacher she’d been to about a third of the places on the alphabet chart with pictures above the chalkboard. My son’s track and field meet was in a different country. Pretty cool.
  • Give your kids time to adjust – both to going overseas and to coming back to the States. But also understand they’ll often adjust to some things more quickly than you.
  • The government doesn’t pay for nursery school and it’s usually not cheap. Factor that expense in if you have kids that age.
  • Schools are usually good to very good, but not always. Foreign nationals attending the schools can be very wealthy and not always welcoming of “Embassy kids.” Do your homework and learn about your options for schools. One source of info is Tales From a Small Planet, a website on overseas Expat life including schools.
  • Keep in mind that no matter where you’re living, there is still homework, grocery shopping (often more frequently than in the United States), taking out the trash, etc. Living overseas won’t magically make your kids want to make their beds or load the dishwasher.
  • And finally, take your own plastic bags and paper towels on airplanes. Turbulence and kids don’t’ mix.

The above is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list on the topic of serving abroad with kids – just some things to think about as you consider a life in the Foreign Service. Everyone is different and has different experiences.

Living abroad while serving your country in the Foreign Service is an amazing experience. It can also be challenging. Kids can sometimes create new challenges, but my wife and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ll close with this: if you’re seriously considering the Foreign Commercial Service – do it; it’s an amazing career!

It was just part of the exciting work we do as Commercial Officers, and it’s what you can be a part of if you join the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below. Or you can sign up to receive email updates from our team.

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Is Your Company Ready to Export?

November 24, 2014

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Don Aberle has one piece of advice for companies looking to export: Commit to it.

It may take time, but the marketing manager from Titan Machinery Outlet says that commitment can pay off, and “good things will happen.”

That’s the theme of a new video from the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration (ITA), which provides tips from successful exporters about how a company can become a global player.

Young companies should also be paying attention to and taking advantage of global opportunities. Startups actually can have an important advantage when it comes to pursuing exports, in that engaging in foreign markets early can make global business a continuing part of your company’s culture.

And that can set your company up for continued success in the global economy.

Here are a few tips that can help your young business find success in exporting:

  • Do Your Research: Find the right markets for your company and have a well-defined strategy for approaching them.
  • Differentiate Yourself: Everyone says their company makes the best products and provides the best customer service. Your company needs to explain – from a consumer’s perspective – why someone would want to buy your products.
  • Be Patient: Jon Engelstad of Superior Manufacturing says there are companies he’s worked with for up to three years in order to make them customers of his company. That means a lot of work for an exporter, but it also creates a strong relationship between you and your consumer.
  • Work with ITA’s Commercial Service: Our team can help you find the right research, plan your strategy, and find the most qualified partners to work with.

Just because your company is young doesn’t mean exporting is out of reach for you. If you’re ready to get started, contact your nearest Export Assistance Center.

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SABIT Fosters Relationship Building between American and Pakistani Business Leaders

November 24, 2014

Becky Long and Tanner Johnson are International Trade Specialists at the International Trade Administration’s Special American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT).

The Pakistani delegation made a visit to Hess Brother's Fruit Company to learn about trends in packaging materials and food safety.

The Pakistani delegation visited a number of U.S. companies, including Hess Brother’s Fruit Company, to learn about trends in packaging materials and food safety.

The Special American Business Internship Training Program (SABIT) promotes international economic development and the formation of business ties by hosting delegations of international executives in the United States.

The program has been training international business leaders from Eurasia, South Asia, and other regions for more than 20 years.

SABIT recently hosted a delegation of 13 Pakistani executives from the packaging industry, in an effort to further the U.S.-Pakistan business relationship.

The delegation met with leaders of American companies, associations, and government agencies in Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Illinois to discuss trade opportunities, technological innovations, and U.S. trends in packaging materials, manufacturing processes, food safety, and marketing.

The group also attended PACK EXPO, one of the world’s largest exhibitions of packaging equipment and materials.

Hosting delegations like this is crucial to furthering the U.S. relationship with an important trade partner.

The United States is the largest export market for Pakistani goods, with nearly $3.7 billion worth of goods going to U.S. consumers. Roughly 90 percent of that total was in the textiles and garments industry, which means there are considerable untapped possibilities for Pakistan’s other industries to expand their exports to the United States.

Pakistani business leaders in a variety of industries are seeking more information about the U.S. market and industry-specific import regulations and processes.

Upon returning home to Pakistan, the delegates will use the knowledge and contacts gained in the United States to improve their businesses, encourage industry collaboration, and increase exports. At the end of the program, several delegates were eager to share their thoughts and takeaways from their visit:

“I learned a lot about laws and regulations, and how to implement food safety regulations. This is important because in Pakistan people are not very aware [of international food safety standards] and due to this reason, food waste is quite high….The flexible packaging market is very similar in the United States and Pakistan, and it is growing in [both countries]. So we have a lot of opportunities to develop flexible packaging materials.”
– Tahira Yasmin, Assistant Manager of Research and Development, Packages Limited

“Being here is like being presented with a crystal ball, you can look ten years ahead into the future, so that is a very good thing. We already know what the future is and where we should be if we want to stay in business.”
Motasim Ahmad Bajwa, Chief Operating Officer, Lucky Plastic Industries Ltd

In March 2015, SABIT will host a Pakistani delegation of professionals in the sphere of supply chain management. The program will help improve Pakistan’s transportation, storage, and logistical linkages, and it will serve to further integrate Pakistan into the international supply chain. SABIT is also planning future in-country training events and webinars for SABIT’s alumni in Pakistan.

Click to watch SABIT’s video interview with some of the packaging delegation participants. U.S. companies interested in hosting SABIT’s international delegations may contact the SABIT office at 202-482-0073 or sabit@trade.gov.

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New Search Tool Driven by API Helps U.S. Companies Comply with Export Laws

November 20, 2014

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog. screenshot from consolidated screening list tool

Starting today, U.S. companies can use a simple tool to search the federal government’s Consolidated Screening List (CSL).

The CSL is a streamlined collection of nine different “screening lists” from the U.S. Departments of Commerce, State, and the Treasury that contains names of individuals and companies with whom a U.S. company may not be allowed to do business due to U.S. export regulations, sanctions, or other restrictions.

If a company or individual appears on the list, U.S. firms must do further research into the individual or company in accordance with the administering agency’s rules before doing business with them. It is extremely important for U.S. businesses to consult the CSL before doing business with a foreign entity to ensure it is not flagged on any of the agency lists.

The U.S. agencies that maintain these lists have targeted these entities for various national security and foreign policy reasons, including illegally exporting arms, violating U.S. sanctions, and trafficking narcotics. By consolidating these lists into one collection, the CSL helps support President Obama’s Export Control Reform (ECR) initiative, which is designed to enhance U.S. national security.

In addition to using the simple search tool, the CSL is now available to developers through the International Trade Administration (ITA) Developer Portal (http://developer.trade.gov).

The Consolidated Screening List API (Application Programming Interface) enables computers to freely access the CSL in an open, machine-readable format. By making the CSL available as an API, developers and designers can create new tools, websites or mobile apps to access the CSL and display the results, allowing private sector innovation to help disseminate this critical information in ways most helpful to business users.

For example, a freight forwarder could integrate this API into its processes and it could automatically check to see if any recipients are on any of these lists, thereby strengthening national security.

During the process of creating the API, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration and Bureau of Industry and Security worked with the Departments of the Treasury and State to form an authoritative, up-to-date, and easily searchable list with over 8,000 company and individual names and their aliases.

These improvements provide options to the downloadable CSL files currently on export.gov/ecr.

In early January, ITA also will release a more comprehensive search tool. This new API, along with Monday’s announcement of a new Deputy Chief Data Officer and Data Advisory Council, is another step in fulfilling Commerce’s “Open for Business Agenda” data priority to open up datasets that keep businesses more competitive, inform decisions that help make government smarter, and better inform citizens about their own communities.

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Major Infrastructure Projects in Mexico: Exporting Opportunities for U.S. Firms

November 14, 2014

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency blog. It also contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Gabriela Morales-Richards is an MBDA Business Development Specialist.

aerial rendering of mexico's airportRecently the Minority Business Development Agency’s (MBDA) National Deputy Director, Albert K. Shen, met with Carlos Marron, Senior Investment and Trade Commissioner of ProMexico, to discuss ways to collaborate on upcoming infrastructure projects throughout Mexico.

Over the next four years, the Mexican Government plans to invest more than $600 billion to modernize transport, telecommunications, water, energy, and environment sectors. These infrastructure projects present minority-owned businesses with a unique opportunity to leverage cultural and familial ties, and language capabilities as strong competitive advantages in Latin America markets.

The expansion of the airport in Mexico City was the focus of MBDA’s discussion with ProMexico. The Aeropuerto Internacional de la  Ciudad  de  Mexico (AICM)  is  the  primary airport  in  Mexico,  accounting  for  35 percent of air passenger trips. With two passenger terminal buildings and two non-simultaneous primary runways AICM transports 32 million travelers per year. Foster + Partners of London will design this state-of-the art airport; a company credited with designing airports in China, Jordan, Kuwait, Panama, and the United Kingdom.

The project scope is broken into two planned phases. Phase 1 will include the construction of a new terminal building and three parallel runways capable of simultaneous operation – creating the capacity to support 50 million passengers and 550,000 flights per year. Phase 2 will add three runways for a total of six runways capable of simultaneous operation. The full expansion will support an additional 450,000 flights per year and 70 million additional passengers per year.

The $10 billion mega project is expected to create significant opportunities for U.S. firms. AICM maintains a formal register of pre-qualified vendors. Registration requires substantial documentation including historical financial data, organization charts, lists of past and present Mexican government contracts, and resumes of key personnel. This project has its own website, hosted by the Government of Mexico at http://www.aeropuerto.gob.mx.

If you are interested in receiving additional information, please contact Gabriela Morales, in the Market Access Unit of MBDA’s Office of Business Development.  Also, download the Mexico Project Resource Guide that provides U.S. companies and exporters with an overview of Mexico’s infrastructure sectors, the sector development plans in place through 2018, and to provide profiles of a sample of specific, upcoming projects of potential interest.

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Connecting Entrepreneurs to the Global Marketplace

November 13, 2014

The Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration works hard to help companies that are ready to export compete and succeed in global markets.

We want to emphasize that it’s never too early for entrepreneurs to start thinking about exporting – determining financing needs, targeting markets, conducting research, etc.

As we’ve worked with global startups, we’ve learned it can be difficult for entrepreneurs to connect to existing resources to help them go global. We realize that start-ups differ in their capabilities at various stages of the business development process, but want to help young businesses incorporate export plans into their business model as early as possible.

One great way to get started is to be a part of ExporTech, which can help your company develop its export plan, then have it vetted by a panel of experts. More than 575 companies have participated in Exportech, with an average sales increase or retention of $770,000.

Here are four more tips for the busy entrepreneur to help address specific needs to start exporting:

  1. Secure Access to Capital: Many local and state governments have seed capital and investment programs just for their states’ entrepreneurs and start-ups. Many states have small business development programs or start-up-specific outreach programs designed to assist entrepreneurs to access capital — as well as educate them on best practices. On the federal level, there is the Small Business Administration, which has programs like the U.S. Small Business Investment Company program. A list of other loans directed towards helping small businesses go global can be found here.
  2. Secure your Intellectual Property: In order to increase the confidence a startup requires for going global, we need to ensure they know about what our U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is doing to protect American start-ups’ intellectual property. Here are five simple steps to get started, and you can find more information at stopfakes.gov.
  3. Do your Research: One important thing you need to figure out is the right target market for your exports. Understand the market trends and figure out your company’s competitive advantage. You can find market research reports on export.gov or by visiting your nearest Export Assistance Center. Here are some other important questions you should answer from the start.
  4. Find the Right Partners: Every market is different, and having a good partner on the ground — whether it’s your legal representation, a distributor, or a sales representative – can make a huge difference in your company’s success. Consider ITA’s Gold Key Matchmaking Service to help you find the right partner for your needs.

By helping America’s high-growth start-ups go global, trade will become a broader part of doing business in the United States. The International Trade Administration and the Department of Commerce are committed to enabling our next generation of globally fluent businesses.

Contact your nearest Export Assistance Center to get started.

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Commercial Officers Use Superpowers for the Good of U.S. Business

November 12, 2014

Frank Joseph is an Officer for the International Trade Administration’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Note: The International Trade Administration plans to hold an assessment in 2015 through which it will hire a new class of Foreign Commercial Service Officers. We’ll publish a series of articles about ITA’s Foreign Commercial Service to answer questions from people who may be interested in this career opportunity.

If a Marvel movie about a raccoon can make $300 million, why not make one about a Foreign Commercial Service Officer like me? And it’s not just because I have a mammal’s good looks or a plant’s silver tongue. Rather, my superpowers include imperviousness to 90 degree heat and 100 percent humidity and an ability to drink insanely strong coffee. All earned after three years as a Commercial Officer living in Ho Chi Minh City, working to create opportunities for U.S. exporters.

Vietnam wasn’t on my Foreign Service bucket list, but I assure you, I had it wrong.

Professionally, Vietnam was an amazing experience, and I have no regrets. Here you have a country that endeavors to build its very first subways in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, an integrated highway system that some compare to President Eisenhower’s 1950’s American highway initiative, and an international airport from scratch. Add to those scores of hospitals, billions of dollars dedicated to water treatment projects, and major initiatives to meet energy demands. It is a promising market for U.S. exporters and a fantastic opportunity for a Commercial Officer.

Helping drive American jobs by accessing these sorts of sales opportunities gets my blood pumping. It’s why I joined the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. I worked with an outstanding team of locally hired staff led by some of this organization’s best Commercial Officers. As a team, we positioned our companies in front of key decision makers, set up sales networks and advised on market “nuances” among other duties.

Nuances – that’s where the rubber hits the road. Almost daily we coached companies how to:

  • Find further clarity to handle un-transparent regulations;
  • Sell to cash strapped buyers who make financing the beginning and ending of conversations;
  • Bid on government projects that involve foreign government “tied” aid – meaning that the country that provides funding support requires Vietnam to purchase its country’s products;
  • Convince Vietnamese buyers not to buy the least expensive solution;
  • Understand state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that make up 35 percent of GDP. SOE decision-making can be political as much as it is profit-driven; and,
  • Avoid corruption — an unfortunate fact of life in Vietnam. Many locals accept it as a necessary part of business. Our firms need to raise this and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act first thing when interviewing local partners.

And that coaching helped create success for U.S. companies. Our promotion effort to secure a $90 million sale of wind turbines is a great example of the work we do. In this case, we did that by facilitating communications between the U.S. supplier, the local Vietnamese buyer and the various Vietnamese government agencies that regulated the sale. We also helped introduce the Export-Import Bank to finance the deal as competing foreign governments introduced favorable financing to support their companies. Then, we offered up a signing ceremony witnessed by a U.S. Secretary to demonstrate how important the sale was to the U.S. government.

It was just part of the exciting work we do as Commercial Officers, and it’s what you can be a part of if you join the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service. Have any questions? Let us know in the comments below. Or you can sign up to receive email updates from our team.

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