Virtual Trade Missions:
How to get the most from your overseas meetings

"The Voice of Technology"
Northern Virginia Technology Council Magazine

By Elizabeth A. Vazquez & Virginia Littlejohn
April 2002, Vol. 12 No.4

Governments, business associations, and companies have spent billions of dollars and countless hours trying to create business opportunities in foreign markets. Large companies can usually afford to make a few mistakes when they enter a foreign market, but smaller companies cannot afford to do the same.

And, at a time when travel and marketing budgets have been slashed and executives are less willing to fly because of security concerns and long delays at airports, a virtual trade mission can be the solution. Virtual trade missions help to ensure that business executives have a solid business opportunity waiting for them in a foreign market before they leave their office for 1-2 weeks. Trade missions over the Internet complement, but do not replace, face-to-face meetings organized by governments or business associations.

Similar to a traditional trade mission where a group of companies from one industry travel to a foreign market in hopes of identifying business opportunities, a virtual trade mission uses Internet technology and video conferencing to educate businesses about foreign markets, while facilitating introductions and networking among potential partners, clients, and investors.

Virtual trade missions can significantly increase the probability of business success, while minimizing the real costs, as well as the opportunity costs, of developing trade deals. This approach to International trade has been piloted with companies in countries such as Canada, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States, and will be offered in 2002 to technology companies in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, that want to do business with technology companies in markets such as China, Israel, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

A typical virtual trade mission is hosted over the Internet for 4-6 weeks (often prior to a face-to-face event such as an industry-specific trade show or expo). During a virtual trade mission, participants experience a complementary mix of communication media including virtual meetings, video conferencing, video streaming, and email - so that everyone has access to a technology they are comfortable using.

In addition to business contacts, a virtual trade mission provides access to timely information, and to experts from the public and private sector who can offer personalized advice regarding issues such as trade law, procurement processes, finance options, accounting requirements, etc. Virtual trade missions can assist with trade-readiness, but are often designed to create international business opportunities for companies that already import and/or export goods or services.

Elizabeth Vazquez and Virginia Littlejohn are with TradeBuilders, Inc., a team that includes international trade and marketing experts who use the Internet and other technologies to help facilitate business networking and global alliances.

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