Global trade is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Global trade costs jobs. Trade benefits the poorest countries. It widens the gap between rich and poor. It enhances the spread of technology. It results in the theft of intellectual property. It unites the world. It destroys the environment.
Yep. All that and more.
No matter where you stand on these various debates and the complexity they represent, history indicates that—barring wars and natural disasters—humans will find a way to trade with their fellows, near and far. Even in the face of forbidding geography, restrictive laws, intricate regulations, and burdensome tariffs. And human beings will do their best to profit from this commerce.
It could be said of any age, but advances in transportation and communication—which have made both cheaper and faster—link far-flung markets more closely than ever before. Today, international trade happens, literally, at the push of a button. And that same button makes the other side of the world as close as the other side of the street. As transportation and communication allow raw materials and tangible goods to move fluidly, they also enable the movement of capital, labor, and technology. As always, developing markets have the advantage of cheap labor and advanced markets the advantage of technology. But these days, the gaps between markets narrow quicker than ever before. Manufacturing will move to the location where the combined elements of getting a product to market are the cheapest. Commerce in services—which has become a significant part of global trade—can be located wherever there’s enough technology to support an internet connection.
With each of these movements, demand shifts and supply follows. Some businesses rise and others fall. Jobs are lost in some markets and gained in others. Political policies and trade regulations may temporarily shelter developing industries and protect certain sectors of an economy, but those policies cannot derail human ingenuity or stop the advance of commerce.
As business men and women enter the workforce, as entrepreneurs enter the market, they must be conscious of this global interconnectedness. They must have a knowledge of global markets, of global production capabilities, of transportation processes, and communication costs. They must couple this knowledge with an awareness of the leverage points, those places in the international supply chains, in the manufacturing and service processes, where the potential for reduced costs and increased efficiencies generate an advantage. And these entrepreneurs must have a sensitivity to the differences in cultures and the idiosyncrasies of different markets so they can understand the problems and possibilities, effectively communicate, reduce the difficulties and expand the potentials.
That’s a lot to know and understand, but that’s commerce today. Chances are that sensitivity won’t come to you by sitting at home or plunking away on your phone.
So get out and take a look. There’s a whole world out there; and it’s at your fingertips.