Conference teaches basics of trade

March 03, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

International business partnerships are much like a marriage. Both are relationships that may last for life, Diego Portieles, president of IDI Inc. in Columbia, told a group of business people yesterday.

"When you meet someone [a prospective trading partner], it may become a passionate affair," Mr. Portieles said during the Introduction to World Trade conference at the Comfort Inn in Westminster.

"But you need to control your hormones until you get to know them. You want to hold hands, date and get engaged, and that takes time.

"You need to make sure this is someone you want to spend the rest of your life with."

Mr. Portieles, who worked with the Maryland International Division of the state Department of Employment and Economic Development before entering the private sector, now helps businesses develop their international trade.

He is one of 13 instructors in the two-day conference taught by the World Trade Center Institute and the World Trade Center in Baltimore. Classes today, sponsored by the Carroll County Office of Economic Development and the Frederick Chamber of Commerce, include various aspects of international finance.

The institute is a private, nonprofit organization that offers classes on international trade and helps member businesses make contacts and increase their trade with other countries.

In trading with other countries, personal integrity is often more important than product name because foreign business people are unsure of a manufacturer's professional reputation, Mr. Portieles said.

"The only thing you have in common is your humanity," he said. "They look at you, who your parents were, what you believe in. The meetings may seem a little strange, but they are looking at points of common interest, points of trust.

"You'll be doing business with them for the rest of your life, as long as you don't betray that trust."

A base level of market research is crucial when trying to sell in another country, Mr. Portieles said.

"You want to keep yourself from making a major mistake," he said, recalling an American baking company that tried to jump into the Japanese market in 1986 and failed miserably.

Company officials had noticed that Japanese-American women seemed fascinated with baking. But when the company began trying to sell its products in Japan, no one would buy.

"They blew about $8 million," Mr. Portieles said. "It was like they took a dive off the 10-meter board into an empty pool. Then some junior Twinkie marketing person from the back of the room said, 'The Japanese don't have ovens.' "

So company officials realized that Japanese-American women had been attracted to baking because it was a novelty to them, he said.

Profit is the only acceptable reason to get into international trade, Mr. Portieles said. International relations take time, so trading with other countries isn't a good "quick fix" for a failing company, he said.

"The company is floundering for underlying reasons that will be obvious overseas as well," he said.

A desire to travel is another insufficient reason, he said.

"In that case, go on vacation in another country," said Mr. Portieles, who takes about 18 international business trips a year. "Every one of my trips is a combat run. The only reason to do this is money."

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