The thrill of my first export shipment remains with me to this day. I was an Import/Export Assistant Trainee
for an international trade consultancy firm in the Northeast State of Ceara, Brazil. I recall the satisfaction of
holding the Export License that I had prepared. The day before, my boss and I had visited our client – a
manufacturer of aluminum disks for pots and pans. It was their first shipment to the United Kingdom. The
wooden crates were perfect; the disks inspected were in accordance with the importer’s requirements.
Everything went well with the ocean voyage and clearance at the UK port of destination. Complications
arose when the importer rejected 90 percent of the shipment after quality testing. My first shipment was
auctioned as scrap metal in the United Kingdom!

My first lesson: be prepared for the unexpected when working in the global marketplace. Our client learned
an important secret to success in the international market: quality is paramount.  This can only be attained
through quality control throughout the entire manufacturing process.  Inspection by qualified quality-control
technicians before packaging and shipment is a must.

As I learned more, participated in more shipments, and grew as an international trade (IT) professional, I
discovered that there was never a dull moment in this business of moving goods across continents. Import
and export operations involve diverse activities – processing orders, production, quality control,
documentation, booking space on vessels and aircrafts, accompaniment of shipment, delivery of goods at
destination, handling foreign exchange payments/receipts, and resolving problems after delivery.

Added to these processes are the numerous partnerships, outside of your own business, required to make
it all happen.  These partners include freight forwarders, customs officials, government agencies, shipping
companies, airline agents, courier delivery companies, overland transport companies, storage facilities, port
authorities, packing companies, quality inspection companies, and others depending on your product.  To
operate with success in this dynamic field, the IT professional must possess a variety of skills and qualities.

Firstly, the IT professional must enjoy working with people of other cultures. He/she must be open to
different ways of thinking and doing things. He/she can never assume to have all the answers or the best
way. Fluency in English is a must. Being able to communicate in the language of the overseas commercial
partner is a plus. With interpreters readily available, it is not essential to your success. However, it brings
you closer to the people with whom you will come in contact.  Learning more about the country and its
culture is invaluable in avoiding embarrassing or unacceptable behavior that can adversely affect the
progress of your business negotiations.

Secondly, considering the complexity of the import/export process and the volume of paperwork generated,
the IT professional must be organized and detail-oriented. A simple mistake on a bill of lading, a Letter of
Credit or a missing document – such as the Phytosanitary Certificate or Certificate of Origin – can cause
unnecessary delivery delays and added costs, creating problems for your client and the success of his/her
business. The following example demonstrates this point.   

  • A 40-foot container destined for Italy was delivered to a US client; the container for the USA went to Italy.
    This serious mistake, that incurred heavy costs for the exporter and caused production delays to both
    clients involved, was the result of a simple oversight – an exchange of the container numbers on the
    advice to the shipping company.

Thirdly, knowing and adhering to all your client’s requirements for meeting his/her country’s import/export
regulations is another key to success. A shipment to Australia was detained at the port of destination for
two weeks, incurring a substantial cost for fumigation treatment of two 20-foot containers when it was
discovered that there were several pallets with bark. The Fumigation Certificate was not enough to allay
the fears of the Australian sanitary inspectors. Wood pallets used must not contain bark.

It is the responsibility of the IT professional to know the import/export regulations of the country with which
you are doing business. Such information is usually provided by your client as well as the trade and other
governmental organizations in your own country. While some regulations act as trade barriers to deter or
control importation of specific products, it would be foolhardy to dismiss them as stupid or unnecessary. A
successful IT professional respects and adheres to international trade laws and accords, governmental
regulations and procedures for specific markets and products. Unfair trade practices can and should be
referred to your country's government agency responsible for handling these matters.

Fourthly, a quick response to handling disasters is another key to success. Some problems are multifaceted
and require action and solutions on several fronts, such as the above-mentioned cases. Your buyers and
suppliers know that errors can occur. They also know that problems can arise from factors out of your
control, such as the case of a container that disappeared in the Caribbean region on its way from Brazil to
the USA during the hurricane season. What saves the day is your response to their crisis. It must be evident
that immediate action is being taken to correct the problem and that the oversight will not occur again.
Keeping your client informed of up-to-date positions of action in progress is vital to securing his/her
satisfaction. Silence breeds uncertainty and impairs trust.

Problem-solving requires decision-making and action. To succeed in maintaining the client’s confidence,
the IT professional must be able to build a strong business relationship based on trust, respect, and a
genuine interest in seeing his/her client succeed.  This is achieved in the day-to-day operations by
anticipating your clients' needs, looking out for their best interests, seeking means to reduce operational
costs, listening and responding to complaints, taking action to correct errors, providing up-to-date position
on orders and delivery dates, meeting deadlines, and advising them in advance of problems that may affect
their expected-delivery dates.

Finally, but not of least importance, success also comes with the IT professional’s capacity to forge
partnerships with all parties – mentioned in paragraph 4 above – involved in the import/export process.  
Consider the two cases below involving collaboration with customs officials and shipping agents:

  • A customs official at a Brazilian port refused to release a 20-foot container of perfumes, imported from
    the USA, after an inspection revealed that the packaging was not in Portuguese. This was a new
    requirement, unknown to the importer at that time.

  • Three 40-foot containers were booked for shipment on a particular vessel but, the day before the vessel
    was due in the port, the client requested shipment of another 40-foot container.  This shipment required
    a Certificate of Origin and Fumigation Certificate.  

A successful IT professional knows of the importance of building a partnership relationship between
producer and buyer. Together, producer and buyer can work to overcome obstacles and find solutions to
problems of quality, production needs, reduction of costs, and transport.  This does not happen overnight.
To succeed, the IT professional exercises patience, is obstinate in pursuit of his/her goals, and is not
deterred by obstacles that frequently arise.

As your international business grows, the challenges grow. The pace is hectic; you become addicted to your
adrenaline. But nothing can take away the sense of achievement with each new order, each new shipment,
and each new client. Nothing can take away the joy of receiving your overseas clients. And, at the end of
another intense day, nothing can take away the joy of sharing with them the best of your city.