Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unprecedented Opposition to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

In response to a recent article I read opposing the recent Free Trade Agreement with Colombia, I decided to write this. You can see the original article here:


Free trade is a good thing, and generally speaking should benefit everyone involved if it is truly free trade. I have yet to see strong evidence to support why this deal has so much opposition.

Most countries with which the US opens up Free Trade Agreements benefit in many new ways. They can easily market and sell their products and services to us, and benefit from buying US products, like clothing, electronics, and more without having to pay gigantic tariffs, which can sometimes more than double the cost of a product. Imagine if the Apple computer you are reading this article on cost $3,000, with the majority of that fee going to your government!

I think the conflict people fear when it comes to international trade is that we are outsourcing jobs, supporting unfair working conditions, and exploiting people. Unfortunately, this is a sad biproduct of something that should help everyone involved.

I meet with clients frequently looking to do business abroad. What I recommend is the following:

1.) Be a good Global Citizen. This means respect the new culture and cater to local business practices and customs to the extent that you can. However, if something is illegal in the United States, do not buy into that while abroad.

2.) Know the people and companies with whom you are doing business. Spend extra time upfront to build a good relationship. Make sure that the companies that you outsource to or import from are ethical and not exploiting people.

3.) Focus on creating value - this does not mean improving your margins by finding very cheap labor, but doing things that will actually add value to your brand, improve the quality of your products, and the perception your customer has of you.

4.) Develop programs to prepare your employees for an international environment. Teach them languages and cultures, and incorporate that into your domestic business.

5.) Think very strongly before making a decision to outsource a major operation. Look for ways to promote the people that may lose their job to a higher value position within or have a plan to ensure they transition to a new job smoothly.

We have been participating in international trade for thousands of years. Creating true Free Trade environments reduces unnecessary taxes and benefits everyone involved, but we must maintain a high level of ethics when doing so. So instead of fighting things like this agreement with Colombia, which really is inevitable, let's make sure that people are not exploited and we are doing this to add value to our communities, organizations, and customers.

I welcome your feedback here. Please join the debate by adding your comments below.

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