Colombia Free Trade Agreement: Still Treading Water

Timing is everything, and I wonder how much more water the pending free trade agreement (FTA) between Colombia and the US must tread before its ratification by the US congress. And today’s political waters are shark-infested, indeed. Signed and ratified just before Thanksgiving 2006, as reported in Wall Street Journal, the FTA yet remains a bargaining chip in today’s contentious partisan politics.

Pay heed in the coming week to news coverage of the 29 June meeting between Presidents Obama and Uribe. We will see our president test his political moxy, urging President Uribe and proponents of the FTA to keep their heads above water while our polarized house and senate duke it out over vital economic issues. Here’s where the moxy comes in: as he holds back the lifesaver, he will at the same time ask if the US can base its narco-surveillance operations at a Colombian airbase, regardless of FTA ratification or defeat.

The irony? The FTA’s opponents don’t gain anything by blocking its passage except a notable partisan victory. To be sure, the Colombian FTA has “kick me” painted on its backside, a carry-forward from the Bush administration and now held at arm’s length, noses plugged, by the house and senate majority leaders. The influence of AFL-CIO and the debt owed to them by the new president cannot be underestimated in this skirmish.

But the fact remains that U.S. markets are already open to Colombian goods, under the Andean trade preferences act. This new FTA would open Colombian markets to U.S. exports, which currently face tariffs as high as 35 percent and are losing market to EU and Asian competitors. When that field is leveled, American exporters will realize increased revenue in Colombia through more competitively priced goods and services, which helps counter our ballooning trade deficit, ensures employment for millions of Americans, and of course contributes to the business tax base to help reverse state and federal deficits.

The Great Pacific Rim Business Machine

The Pacific Rim’s confluence of commerce sits where the Southwest US meets northern Mexico. From San Diego-Tijuana to El Paso-Juarez, Pacific Rim companies gather to design and test prototypes; supply professional services; sell materials and manufacturing systems; build and assemble products; and ship goods by air, road and rail.

Every day, the people running this great machine navigate a mash-up of Asian, Latino and Anglo-European work styles and cultural norms. Are you lucky enough to be one of them? It’s a wondrous machine, one that works. And, considering the makeup of people who have built up Hong Kong and San Francisco into world capitols of commerce, that mash-up has proven to be the essence of the Pacific Rim economy.

Two dynamic organizations equip international business people to succeed in cross-cultural business. I recommend two events from their calendars that, while different in scope and intent, both serve to round out an international trade toolkit.

Cross Cultural Business Communication. Get to know the World Trade Center San Diego, to see the depth and diversity of their resources; then jump to this event page to register. WTCSD’s pedigree among the San Diego region’s international trade sector is unsurpassed, and sharing their knowledge about cross-cultural business communication is but a sample of how they work to put area companies on the map.

By the way, I’ve had some Maalox moments in cross-cultural business communication. In Tokyo, I royally botched the “bow or handshake” greeting protocol while paying a visit to an industry titan. In those fateful 3 seconds, I also dropped his business card. His look of pure disdain still lingers in my head. Gain the upper hand as a well-informed, culturally-aware business person — you can never be too informed or too prepared.

Building Manufacturing and Logistics Partnerships. If offshore manufacturing is part of your strategy for success — whether as a manufacturer or as a supplier thereof — rely upon the U.S. Commercial Service to teach you the right way to conduct business in northern Mexico. The Tijuana office invites you to attend this FREE BajaMak July 7 webinar, and they endorse the upcoming BajaMak show in Tijuana, which promises to be an influential and productive event. Don’t forget that a large percentage of companies who already build their products in northern Mexico are from Southeast Asia and the U.S., among them Samsung, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Daewoo, Hitachi, Hyundai, Honeywell, JVC. They need your expertise and your services.

Make this great Pacific Rim machine of ours start to work for you and your company, by polishing your communication skills and connecting with resourceful partners.

Gee Whiz Jobs: Antenna Balls

June 15 is National Smile Power Day. Flash your grills and spread happiness all around you! And while you’re at it, make sure your car antenna is decked out with the iconic Happy Ball, the smilin’ orb that became a pop icon in the 1970s and lives on via Instant Messenger emoticons.

Where, you may ask, can you buy your own gleeful orbs? Enter HappyBalls.com, whose Antenna Ball Superstore has churned out 40 million car antenna toppers since starting up nearly 10 years ago. Company spokesman “Super Ball Happy Guy” also suggests a new line of sports- and hobby-themed antenna bling.

2b_2My parents used to gas up at the Union 76 service station, whose manager kept our car antennas decked out in flaming-hot orange ’76’ balls. They, along with atomic day-glo souvenir bumper stickers from Sea Lion Caves and Trees of Mystery, were Oregon’s unique version of “Daytime Running Lights”. I think the department of motor vehicles’ driver manual specified placement of both, for added visibility during inclement weather. I missed that question on my driving test… 🙂

Commitment, ambition, hard work, and timing has paid off for the proud owners of HappyBalls.com, who know that we all just want to add a little something to our cars, to make them stand out in the crowd. The world’s a better place when you roll with Happy Balls. Indeed.

World Trade Week: View from the Border

2009 World Trade Week events in the southern California/US-Mexico border region:

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce & U.S. Commercial Service co-hosted The Americas Business Forum in Los Angeles May 27-28.

  • Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke reminded guests to tap the US & Foreign Commercial Service’s myriad resources.
  • LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa shared his vision of the city as a “21st-century Venice”, a hub of global trade.
  • Bob DeMartini, export manager of Hayward Pools provided a valuable look at winning international sales through hard work and sensible channel relationships. My favorite line: “‘Exclusivity’ means ‘Exclusive Right NOT to Sell'”. Wise advice from a channel veteran.
  • Commercial diplomats from Latin America posts recapped sector growth data and read socio-political gauges. Watch what will happen in Panama in the coming decade: the $5.2 billion Panama Canal expansion project will double the canal’s capacity, and the mammoth ColĂłn Free Trade Zone re-exports $19 billion in goods and services into all Latin American and Caribbean countries and the US, and is set to expand.
  • Orange County Center for International Trade & U.S. Commercial Service co-hosted an excellent Mexico Trade Outlook in Santa Ana May 26.

  • Ann Bacher, Incoming Minister Counselor of Commercial Affairs for the US & Foreign Commercial Service posted impressive statistics: California businesses account for 15% of the US exports to Mexico, valued at about $20 billion. NAFTA is the world’s largest free trade area, home to 440 million people and a GDP of $15.4 trillion.
  • Despite immediate concerns about influenza, sub-standard infrastructure, and narco-violence, US suppliers should keep an eye on such long-term prospects for export growth as aviation-related services and systems, automotive manufacturing systems (GM and Chrysler aren’t the only car makers located in Mexico!), franchising, security and safety systems (more on the Merida Initiative here), and education (online and campus), the latter of which signals a more informed, motivated work force.
  • Carlos Rodriguez y Quesada, spokesman for the Mexican government’s foreign investment agency, PROMÉXICO, reported major infrastructure opportunities: $4 billion to build or upgrade 1400 kilometers of rail, maritime, including the $5 billion Punto Coronet project; highways, energy, telecomm, and manufacturing systems.
  • Have you heard about Cali-Baja Bi-National Mega-Region? The economic development agencies in San Diego and Imperial Counties and the state of Baja California announced this joint venture during World Trade Week, to market the region nationally and internationally.

    At an event near the Otay Mesa Border Crossing in San Diego, I spoke with the new field director of the US Customs and Border Protection Agency, Paul Morris. Paul noted that the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) quietly went into effect on June 1, and all systems appear to be GO.

    Finally, good news from El Paso. The head of the US-Mexico Border District Export Council, Cecilia Levine, is joining her cross-border colleagues in celebrating the opening of El Paso’s first Department of Commerce office. The new office will collaborate with the DEC as well as promote a Gold Key program tailored to US suppliers who are seeking to preserve trade with manufacturers in Mexico.

    International Business Pre-Flight Checklist: Summary

    Is your company ready for takeoff?

    The best checklists are short and sweet, but thorough.

    1. Get Executive Thumbs-Up.
    Do you have clearance from the tower for takeoff? Your company’s success in international business relies upon complete, enthusiastic support by its leaders.
    2. Analyze Market Horizons.
    Do you have a flight plan? An in-depth market analysis reveals whether you can win a hefty enough slice of the pie to warrant the formation of an international business plan.
    3. Prove Demand.
    Is the destination worth the time and resources? There has to be tangible, measurable demand for your products and services in international markets, which signals long-term revenue growth.
    4. Allocate Resources.
    Can you afford the trip? Budget accordingly across all departments to cover the special skills and resources that are needed when dealing globally.
    5. Select Team.
    Who will be part of your trusted crew? Build up a trustworthy and reputable group of strategic partners, employees, alliances, vertical channel setup, key customers, spokesmen, and analysts.

    Don’t forget to filter any new product ideas, or enhancements to current lines, through this vital checklist. Each item relies upon the others … if fuel tanks are full, but the landing gear is stuck, there will be no happy landing!

    For more market-leading ideas on how to build and grow effective international business relationships, please contact Tom Hanson at Hanson Marketing.

    International Business Pre-Flight Checklist: V

    We’ve covered four vital steps on a reliable, affordable pre-flight checklist. Like a good pilot, we’ve checked off Get Executive Thumbs-Up, Analyze Market Horizons, Prove Demand, and Allocate Resources. Fifth and final entry on this short-but-sweet pre-flight checklist discusses how to Select a Team.

    Who will be part of your trusted crew? Build up a trustworthy and reputable group of strategic partners, employees, alliances, vertical channel setup, key customers, spokesmen, and analysts. Work your network of former and current colleagues and converse with industry partners through your company’s trade associations. LinkedIn, the free social networking site for the business world, has proven to be an excellent site for forming what I call “virtual tribes” of actual and potential colleagues, very targeted groups whose membership is full of professionals who know what you need to know, and who want to learn from you, too.

    Are you hiring non-US staff who will work and live overseas? Ensure that your company’s HR team is qualified to recruit, hire, train and compensate foreign nationals. Ask your CEO (he’s your cheerleader, remember?) to engage a recruiting consultant. Again, a good place to start is at your local US Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center. They help to remove the mystery of engaging with internationally-based professionals who want to work with you or to be your new employee.

    Once the core team is in place, if you’ve taken these recommended steps you’ll likely find that your new international team meshes well with you and your company. Shared values and priorities, style of selling and supporting, and standards for quality and service to name a few. Whether you’re hiring an international sales manager or joining the alliance program of a Fortune 100 partner, the same rules apply.

    Chances are, another company has already forged the trail that you need to follow.

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