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Export-Import Specialists


Exporting and importing is more than the flow of goods between different countries. Taken as a whole, what a country exports and imports largely determines its economic health. Trade relations have also been a major force in determining whether two nations are allies or enemies. During the expansion of the Roman Empire, for example, there was much trade between the Far East and Europe. In the 15th and 16th centuries, explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan undertook long voyages to open new trade routes. Importing foreign goods allowed the people of a country to enjoy products not available in their own country. The early North American colonists traded products or raw materials, such as tobacco and furs, for clothes and other manufactured goods from England.

The people who facilitate the actual trading of finished goods, raw materials, and services are a varied group. In colonial times, a trader was basically anyone with the means of transporting or receiving and distributing goods. Thus, the owner of a ship that made the long voyage between America and England was a trader. So was the owner of a general store in America who bought the clothes and dry goods from other countries and sold them in his store. As America grew, so did the volume of goods it produced for trade. The fertile new country allowed farmers to grow enough crops to feed its own citizens as well as to trade with less fertile countries. Huge barges of grain moved down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico to be traded.

America is a comparatively rich country and its consumers demand a huge variety of products that make large profits for today's importers. But before the 1940s, the United States had a largely protectionist approach to foreign trade, meaning that the government enforced high tariffs and rigorous import restrictions to protect home market producers from overseas competition. In the 1960s, the United States experienced an erosion of its dominant position in world trade, and in most of the years after 1970; it has reported a negative trade balance (more imports than exports). During the mid-2000s, the U.S. trade deficit reached an all-time high as economic crises in other countries caused exports of everything from soybeans to automobiles to decline. No other developed nation has had such a large difference between exports and imports. Because of this imbalance, the United States became keenly interested in either expanding the export of American goods or controlling the import of foreign goods.

Today, protectionism is not as popular as a free trade approach, whose proponents favor open markets and economic interdependence. In a move toward more free trade, President Clinton signed two agreements in 1993. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a pact between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Some of its provisions include the elimination of all tariffs over the next 15 years on goods produced and sold in North America; the barring of governments from imposing special requirements on foreign investors; and the lifting of certain restrictions on services, such as banking, telecommunications, and transportation. The second pact, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), was approved by the U.S. Congress and the governments of 124 other participants. It aimed to reduce international trade barriers, including tariffs, import quotas, and export subsidies. The pact also created the World Trade Organization (WTO), which seeks to regulate and monitor global trade. GATT went out of existence in 1994. Many of its principles and agreements continue to live on in the work of the WTO, which has a membership of more than 160 countries.

NAFTA and the WTO have come under fire from protesters, including labor, small farmers, and environmental concerns. They say the agreements allow large corporations to bypass environmental and worker protection laws and take business and jobs from average workers to concentrate power in the hands of a few corporate giants. Many countries fear that economic globalization will cause them to lose their economic independence as well as their social and cultural identities. In addition, the increasingly rapid loss of American jobs to other countries has raised additional concerns about free trade.

Experts cannot agree on whether such open trade policies have helped or hurt the United States. Familiar terms such as trade deficit or balance of trade are reported daily in the news. The U.S. trade deficit continues be a major concern. The growth of foreign business and its importance to the national economy has created a need for specialists who can handle the complex problems of international business.

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