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What They Do

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International trade specialists research and negotiate far-reaching economic agreements between two or more countries -- the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an obvious example. Trade specialists may work for the state or federal government or for a private company.

Once a deal is signed on the dotted line, the work of trade specialists doesn't end. Many specialists work to help individual companies get their foot in the door and get deals approved. Others help keep international agreements working by solving disputes over everything from softwood lumber to apple dumping.

Often, U.S. international trade is tied to politics. For example, American companies cannot do business in countries like Iraq, Libya and Cuba, due to sanctions. On the other hand, China, which once faced boycotts for human rights violations, now has Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status.

But trade specialists insist the number of disputes is really quite small. "We trade more than $1 billion a day with the United States, and the number of trade irritants are very few," says Sanjeev Chowdury, a trade specialist in Canada.

However, conflicts in this area are not always between states. Trade is becoming ever more international, a phenomenon called globalization. That may be good news for international trade specialists, but there are also organizations that oppose this trend.

Trade specialists work average office hours, but their routine may be interrupted by special requests for data, letters, meetings or conferences that may demand overtime. Regular travel may be necessary to collect data or attend conferences or meetings.

"It's great international travel," says Chowdury. "I learn a lot about the world and use my training." If you work for the foreign service, two-thirds of your career might be spent living and working in another country.

Lisa Kjaers, of the American International Trade Administration, also says international travel is an important part of the job -- you learn more about a foreign market by being there than by reading about it in a textbook.

Being a trade specialist requires, above all, an analytical mind and good communication skills. If you can communicate in a second or third language, all the better. Frequent travel may inconvenience those with physical mobility needs.

At a Glance

Research and negotiate economic agreements between two or more countries

  • There are opportunities in both the public and private sectors
  • Fluency in another language is a definite asset
  • Most trade specialists have some business education or international business experience