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  Félix Peña

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Their impact on the training of specialists for SMEs with global projection.

by Félix Peña
June 2014

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


The current trends that can be observed in the scenario of global trade help us anticipate the need for significant changes in the business strategies for the insertion in global markets, especially of SMEs, and the type of international trade specialists that will be required in the future.

Three requirements appear to be the most important for an SME seeking to achieve and maintain a sustained presence in global markets, especially in those that are more distant physically and culturally: diagnostic capabilities, coordination with other companies and the use of the existing support services.

The main qualities that an SME that goes international will require of the specialists acting within the scope of the company are: a good knowledge of the operational aspects of foreign trade, an understanding of the cultural differences and the ability for team work.

The function of a specialist in international trade in an SME that seeks to achieve and maintain a sustained presence in other markets will then be to guide the respective company on its way towards the sought objective, for example, the aisles of supermarkets or other sales outlets, or a transnational value chain in its various forms. It will therefore be very similar to the figure of the "Sherpa" for those seeking to successfully climb the Himalayan peaks.

At least three trends can be observed today in the scenario of global trade (in this regard, see the January 2013 issue of this Newsletter; and of the month of April 2013). Among other relevant trends, these will have an impact on the training of specialists in international trade that may be demanded by SMEs of Argentina -and also of other countries- which are steadily trying to project to the world their ability to produce goods and provide services that are competitive and of perceived quality in different countries. (See previous approaches by the author on the training of specialists in international trade for companies that are projected to the world: Reflexiones sobre el desarrollo del comercio exterior argentino y los requerimientos de formación de recursos humanos competentes", Noviembre 2002; "Una visión estratégica sobre requerimientos que la integración regional plantea en materia de educación superior y formación", Revista Aportes de la Asociación de Administradores Gubernamentales, Octubre 2004; "Formación de los empresarios exportadores", Revista Brasileira de Comercio Exterior (FUNCEX), Noviembre 2004; Disertación en el III Simposio de Comercio Exterior e Integración, Noviembre 2004, and "El apoyo a las empresas que se internacionalizan", "El Cronista", 16 de diciembre 2010).

Notwithstanding others, these trends are:

a) Greater physical connectivity between different markets, whether in the field of regional or interregional spaces, whatever the distances that exist between them, resulting from technological changes both in production, transport and communications, and in the regulatory frameworks affecting international trade;

b) fragmentation of the production of goods and provision of services within the scope of multiple modalities of production chains, in which tasks that are performed in different national spaces are articulated, and

c) strong growth, especially in developing countries and in so-called emerging economies, of urban population with middle-class income and behaviors and who also have a growing awareness of the power that they are gaining as consumers and as citizens.

The abovementioned, are trends that anticipate the need for significant changes in the business strategies for sustained integration in international markets, especially in the case of SMEs, and therefore in the kind of international trade specialists that they will need to add to their team of collaborators in the future.

Without prejudice to others, some of the changes in business strategies and their development will be:

a) The fine-tuning of the offer of goods and services of a company with the various requirements of the multiple and diverse economic, regulatory and cultural spaces in which it aspires to compete and, thus, the need to understand and appreciate the scope of their existing differences;

b) the adoption of a mental attitude of "hunter of moving prey" in order to achieve a permanent adaptation of the respective commercial strategy to the intense dynamics of change that will continue to affect the competition for international markets, partly as a result of the amount of competitors of multiple origins that will also try to succeed in them, and

c) the continuous effort for technological innovation in the goods and services that are offered, in order to maintain the positioning gained in other markets, adapting them to the dynamics of change that will continue to prevail in the future.

Three requirements would seem to be the most important for an SME seeking to achieve and maintain a sustained presence in world markets, especially in those that are physically and culturally more distant.

Such requirements are:

a) The ability to make and up-to-date diagnosis of the conditions needed to operate successfully in those target markets considered in its strategy for international insertion and, in particular, of the multiple factors that may affect future shifts in its competitive advantages, including those resulting from changes in consumer preferences, trade benefits that may be granted to companies from other countries or the technological changes that may occur;

b) the coordination of joint organizational and production efforts with other companies, whether within the same country or in different countries, especially to partner in the development of production chains in which they can make contributions of higher added value, and

c) the ability to enhance, depending on its strategy, external support (especially from government sources, financial and business institutions, academic institutions, and from international organizations with special programs for SMEs from developing countries) that may be available in terms of competitive intelligence, technological innovation and funding for investment and trade.

What qualities will an SME that goes international demand from the specialists that collaborate in its business?

Among others, the main qualities that will be required in the future are:

a) Sound knowledge (acquired by study and experience) of foreign trade operations in the company's country and an ability to understand those from the countries that are the target of the company's strategy;

b) a proven willingness to understand and enjoy cultural differences and their deep roots, especially as a consequence of having lived and travelled abroad (for example, as students, workers, travelers or backpackers) and, in particular, those of other regional spaces and those with marked cultural differences with our country, especially in terms of values, preferences and priorities of the consumers and the factors that influence how they do business. Fluency in English and other languages (especially those of large countries such as China) will be indispensable, and

c) a capacity for teamwork and to play multiple roles, sometimes simultaneously, to adapt to the continuous changes in international realities and, at the same time, to know and understand in depth the company to which they provide services.

As stated in other opportunities (see the August 2013 Newsletter), the function of the international trade specialist in a SME that seeks to achieve a sustained presence in other markets will be, then, to guide the company on its way towards the sought objective, be it the aisles of supermarkets, or other type of sales outlet, or any form of production or commercial transnational value chain. Therefore, this role will be very similar to the figure of the "Sherpa" for those seeking to successfully climb the Himalayan peaks.

Recommended Reading:

  • CEPAL, "Integración Regional. Hacia una estrategia de cadenas de valor inclusivas", CEPAL - Naciones Unidas, Santiago de Chile, May 2014, on
  • Emmerson, Charles, "1913. In Search for the World before the Great War", Public Affairs, New York 2013.
  • Hoekman, Bernard, "Supply Chains, Mega-Regionals and Multilateralism. A Road Map for the WTO", CEPR Press, London, April 2014, on
  • Mearsheimer, John J., "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics", Updated Edition, W.W.Norton and Company, New York and London 2014.
  • Naïr, Sami, "El desengaño europeo", Galaxia Gutenberg, Barcelona 2014.
  • Osterhammel, Jürgen, "The Transformation of the World. A Global History of the Nineteenth Century", Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 2014.
  • Padilla Pérez, Ramón (editor), "Fortalecimiento de las cadenas de valor como instrument de política industrial. Metodología y experiencia de la CEPAL en Centroamérica", CEPAL-Cooperación Alemana, Santiago de Chile, May 2014:
  • Zheng, Bijian, "China's Peaceful Rise", Speeches of Zheng Bijian 1997-2005, Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC. 2005.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information. |

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