It is difficult to imagine our world without international trade. In any environment where consumers want something that cannot be produced locally, import and export traders step in to help provide that product. Today, much of what we buy is available to us as the direct result of the work of import/export traders. If you’re considering a career in business, sales or marketing and you have an interest in international negotiation and communication, you may find this career choice particularly rewarding.

Job Duties

At its core, the job of an import/export trader is to operate as an intermediary, facilitating the purchase or sale of products between domestic and overseas companies. This is a diverse field, however, and responsibilities tend to vary considerably based on the role the agent occupies in the supply chain and the type of company for which he or she works.

An export management company (EMC) is designed to facilitate international sales for a domestic company that lacks the facilities, skills or knowledge to sell internationally on its own. For agents who work for EMCs, job duties may include arranging foreign distributers, advertising and marketing a product overseas, shipping the product and organizing budgets and invoices.

An export trading company (ETC) takes a different approach, seeking out foreign markets to assess demand for specific products and then locating domestic producers willing to sell. Agents who work for ETCs are often tasked with performing considerable market research to gauge demand for specific products, as well as sales pitches to both domestic and foreign companies on the benefits of engaging in trade.

Agents can also choose to work individually as import/export merchants, opening a business that buys and resells foreign goods directly. This cuts out the middleman considerably, but also entails the greatest amount of risk and responsibility. Operating as a merchant can be very rewarding for individuals interested in crafting an entire trading business from the ground up, which includes management of all market research, orders, shipping, invoices and local sales.

Duties are further diversified based on the specific role an agent maintains in a company. If the agent is working as a representative, he or she may be responsible for pitching products to potential buyers. For those working in distribution, responsibilities include arranging the purchase of goods that are then sold to retailers. Some agents specialize in trade of specific products or groups of products, such as electronics or pharmaceuticals, marketing themselves to manufacturers that produce these goods.

Salary Potential

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have specific salary information for import/export agents, according to national data from May 2013, Purchasing Agents earned an average salary of $63,420. 

For a field as diverse as international trade, salaries can vary tremendously based on an agent’s experience, the type of company they’re working for, the product being traded and the supply and demand for the product. Salaries can also be based on commission or retainers depending on trade arrangement, further complicating the estimation of salary expectations. Some agents choose to work full-time, while others create home-based trading businesses to supplement other income.

Education and Training

For agents interested in working for an EMC or ETC, a bachelor’s degree is often required for employment. Possible majors include finance, business, international business or supply chain management. For individuals interested in management positions, an MBA with a specialization in a field like international business can be an influential asset.

In many cases, success in this field could be based on the professional’s personality traits. Trading is a somewhat specialized field that requires both sales expertise and strong organizational ability. Those individuals with the ability to successfully deliver a sales pitch and keep track of large volumes of invoices, receipts and order forms will be in an excellent position to advance as a trader.

Is a career as an import/export agent right for you?

While many consumers may not realize it, most of what we are able to buy is the direct result of international trade. The importation and exportation of goods form the core of much of international relations today, with approximately $1.2 trillion in annual imports in the US alone. Individuals interested in this process stand to have excellent opportunities for employment.

There is a high level of organization required, and traders are tasked with researching both local and international markets, often comprised of individuals with very different cultural values. The rewards for diligence in this field can be high for those willing to put in the time. If you are considering this field, you may wish to start by conducting additional research on the state of trade today in order to make the most informed decision on whether or not your interests align with this dynamic career.

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