Negotiating in the Import/Export Business

By John J. Capela

Negotiations happen everywhere in the import/export business. After you select the product to deal in and identify a supplier and a customer, you need to discuss the terms of purchase. Many people feel that negotiating is unpleasant because it involves conflict. In every negotiation, somebody wants something. But if you understand the process, you’ll be able to negotiate with confidence, increasing the odds that the outcome will benefit both parties.

The process begins with identifying which issues have to be negotiated, such as the product, pricing, performance, shipping terms, methods of payment, governing laws/languages of the contract, and so on. You establish priorities and determine the areas in which agreements are possible.

The process of negotiating can differ from country to country in many significant ways. In the import/export business, the critical element of success may be respect for regional, country, and cultural differences. You have to take into account communications issues such as language, gestures, and facial expressions as well as differing negotiating styles and problem-solving techniques.

The seven main business regions or marketplaces in the world are Western Europe; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; North America; the Middle East and North Africa; Asia and the Pacific Rim; and sub-Saharan Africa. To be a successful negotiator, you need to have a complete understanding of the do’s and don’ts for each region you’re dealing in.

Today, more and more of these negotiations are being conducted electronically — by telephone, email, instant messaging, or video conferencing. The Internet offers quick and easy opportunities when you’re negotiating with suppliers and customers around the world. However, electronic negotiation requires openness, accuracy, and trust in the business communication. To avoid misunderstandings when sending emails, make every effort to be specific and provide background and context for the message.