(At the end of September, I was fortunate to be granted an informal interview with one of the Canadian Trade Commissioners abroad. This is Part I in a series of articles based on that talk. )
Walking into the office of the Canadian Trade Commissioner, I am met with memories of home: maps of Canada and the individual provinces line the walls, a small Canadian flag sits on the cabinet by the entrance, about 20 bottles of Canadian wine and maple syrup are on display, and the assistant to the Trade Commissioner (who doubles as receptionist) ends her sentences with eh.
I’m thrown for a little bit of a loop, however, as I quickly realize that all three of the people who staff the small office (The Commissioner of International Trade, The Commissioner of Foreign Affairs, and their assistant) are Japanese citizens. Through my talk with the Trade Commissioner, however (whose Blackberry sat on the table throughout our interview) I found out that there are two types of employees working at Canadian offices abroad.
The Canadian Basis Staff (CBS) are Canadian citizens and are brought over from Canada. CBS make up the various Ambassadors and Diplomats that act on behalf of Canada abroad. Locally Engaged Staff (LES) also represent Canada, but are hired by the Canadian government in the foreign country.
What I found interesting from this is that while LES are mostly citizens of the foreign country in question, anyone could become a LES. A Canadian citizen in China, for example, could be hired as a LES if he or she spoke Chinese at a native level. In practice, however, LES are almost always citizens of the host country, as not only language ability, but also a deep understanding of the local culture is very important when dealing with international trade.
The Trade Office works under the Canadian government and Embassy as “The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade,” which is a merger of the two departments. The International Trade department is further broken down into two components: Regional Offices located in Canada, and Foreign Located Offices located abroad; the two offices work closely together.
The main function of the International Trade Department is to give assistance to Canadian companies in establishing links abroad. A company wanting to sell its product or service abroad would first go to the regional office in Canada. After determining certain criteria, the regional office contacts the foreign located office, which then offers further and more specific advice to the company.
During this process, the company would register with the Trade Office to gain access to a government database of local market data where they could research market reports, gain more understanding of a region’s area and market timing, as well as see lists of trade shows in the area.
The government and Trade Office provide this service free of charge. They can help regarding advice on local logistics or to introduce interpreters, but they do not act as mediators or agents, and are not involved with any ensuing negotiation. Most importantly, they can introduce Canadian business people to Japanese counterparts through Embassy sponsored events. It is these introductions and networking opportunities that are the seeds of international trade.
Part II of this series will deal with some of the company to company, as well as country to country, connections that can occur.