When Jeanette O'Malley joined 13 businessmen for a Matchmaker business trip to Saudi Arabia, she was apprehensive.
She wasn't sure if the Saudi officials would accept her as a business person or shove her aside because she's female.But Ms. O'Malley, like other U.S. businessmen who have traveled abroad under similar programs arranged by the Commerce Department, found lots of hospitality and export opportunities during the trip.
The only demand: ability to adapt to local cultures on very short notice, Ms. O'Malley said.
The lights would flicker during the trade show and we had to leave the exhibit hall so that the Saudis can hold their prayer sessions. This went on five times a day, said Ms. O'Malley, president of Tucson, Ariz.-based General Control Co., maker of herbicide and insecticide for dry climates.
During her week in Riyadh, she even learned to like labat, the cool, liquid yogurt Saudis often drink.
According to Commerce Department officials familiar with U.S. trade promotion efforts abroad, small- and medium-sized U.S. companies are getting attuned to foreign business trips and are adapting slowly to the foreign cultures they expect to meet during these trips.
Americans are preparing more for these trade missions abroad. In the past, they would join a mission because a personage, like a governor, was going with the mission. Today, a major reason they join is to seek out opportunities for selling their products abroad, said William D. Spitler, acting deputy director, New York district office of the Commerce Department.
In 1987, the International Trade Administration of the Commerce Department organized 34 trade missions, 200 exhibitions abroad, arranged 30 video or regular catalog shows in the premises of U.S. embassies and nine Matchmaker Programs, according to John Vlavianos, director of the administration's Foreign Trade Commission.
More than 2,300 U.S. companies participated in these events, resulting in 77,000 sales leads, 809 foreign agent representative agreements, 276 licenses issued by U.S. companies to their foreign counterparts and 96 joint ventures, Mr. Vlavianos said Tuesday.
He said more than 5.1 million foreign visitors attended these events in 1987.
Immediate sales developed during the entire events are $230 million, Mr. Vlavianos said.
There are tremendous opportunities for U.S. exports because of the fall (in value) of the U.S. dollar (against major currencies), he said. Through a new program called Export Now, which we started two months ago, we're trying to make U.S. companies aware that there are big opportunities out their for their products.
Several new programs were started in the last few years that stressed export opportunities for U.S. products abroad. For instance, the Matchmaker Program, which began two years ago, matches U.S. exporters with foreign buyers supplied by the embassies.
During the trip abroad, the U.S. embassies will arrange for the U.S. exporters to meet with the foreign buyers.