Wednesday, December 8, 2004

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I don't envy her job

What do you do if you're the counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia on the day after Jeddah? The same thing you do every day -- try to drum up interest among U.S. firms in foing business with the Saudis. Jerry Miller of the Manchester Union-Leader reports:

Just one day after an al-Qaida led band of terrorists invaded the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing nine workers, this nation's counselor for commercial affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was in the Granite State, working to drum up business for New Hampshire companies, interested in doing business in the family-run kingdom.

Nancy Charles-Parker led a roundtable discussion at the Pease Tradeport-based International Trade Resource Center involving nearly three dozen companies eager to do business in the often turbulent nation and other Middle Eastern locations.

With security-related issues on the minds of many participants, Parker did not avoid discussing Monday's killings, which involved the death of staffers she knew and respected.

"All of our people" at the consulate, meaning Americans, "are OK," she told the gathering. "They are understandably shaken up."

Charles-Parker, who left for the Saudi capital shortly after the local appearance, was eager to return to the area to support her co-workers and the families of those killed.

She said for those who fear traveling to the oil-rich Persian Gulf region, "You can sell in Saudi Arabia without being there physically. You can even sell there without going there" by carefully selecting a Saudi-based agent to represent your company's interests in the kingdom....

Asked if she feared for her safety, Charles-Parker, who described herself as a wife, mother and grandmother, responded, "I think it's manageable now."

Charles-Parker, the first women to head the commercial counsel's office at the U.S. Embassy in the Saudi capital, spoke about the role of women in the Saudi culture, saying the country is really two nations, one for men and another for women. There are banks where only men can do business and another separate set of banks for women. Shopping malls also have separate stores for men and women.

Females, including those on the embassy and consulate staffs, are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia,, and a man must accompany women who are on the streets.

A female, like herself, who works in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world, must be "culturally sensitive," she said....

In Saudi Arabia, a woman cannot represent a foreign company in negotiations, although one can in other places in the region. In fact, in Saudi Arabia, men are not used to doing business with women.

Despite the cultural differences, Charles-Parker insisted Saudi Arabia is a very good place to do business, in large part because residents have money to spend and they opt for quality and brand names.

Readers are invited to pick the country where the counselor for commercial affairs would have the most difficult job. This obviously implies that the country is stable enough to have a counselor for commercial affairs.

posted by Dan on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM


Iceland. It's doesn't have to be the political climate that makes the job difficult.

posted by: Eric Berlin on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

I wouldn't care to be a Commercial Counselor in several of the failing African countries. Not onlly is there no money in the popular market (most US sales are consumer products), but even for basic items like foodstuffs (handled, btw, not by Commerce, but by Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service officers), the money from foreign aid is so wrapped around the axel of cronyism and corruption that the US frequently loses to countries with fewer teeth in their "anti-corruption" laws.

Nancy Charles-Parker is really quite incredible. She's one of those people who make most others in the room wish they had more energy, just to keep up with her!

posted by: John on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

> Nancy Charles-Parker is really quite
> incredible. She's one of those people who
> make most others in the room wish they had more
> energy, just to keep up with her!

Over a long career in a variety of industries, I have come to greatly distrust these people with "high energy". 66% of the time they have no idea that they are using their energy to propel themselves at 200 km/hr straight into a concrete bridge abutment. Quite literally in more than one case I know of, but figuratively for the rest of us.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

Ummm. Maybe I'm an idiot, but why exactly is it the job of an employee of the US government to drum up business for a foreign country? I've lived half of my life abroad, and this is first time I've heard that this is something the US government is paying someone to do, so is this unique to Saudi Arabia or does it occur everywhere? I'm betting you won't find employees of other countries trying to drum up business for the US economy.

posted by: mike on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]


posted by: praktike on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

Depending on how frustrated you get by not having anything to do, Cuba would either be the best or the worst.

posted by: Devin McCullen on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

It's not commercial affairs, but I always felt pretty sorry for the poor sap who's the chief of Iraq's bureau of tourism....

posted by: Kevin Drum on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

I'd second the vote for Burma (not Myanmar in my lexicon).

posted by: aiontay on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

Commercial officers primarly advance the interests of US companies overseas by working with local governments to improve the business climate for US investors and companies, facilitate match-making between US and foreign companies, and provide information on foreign business to interested US businesses. They also keep an eye on standards and practices, including things like contract enforcement and intellectual property rights. While posted abroad, their main clients are US businesses looking, often the ones already established in country.

But to encourage US companies to expand trade and to educate US businesses about opportunities abroad, commercial officers occasionally do US tours to "promote" a country as a good place to do business.

Hope this helps.

posted by: Nicolson04 on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

Nicolson4 got it exactly right. Their purpose is not to create business for foreign companies, but to create business for American companies. They promote the hell out of American products that are being launched in a foreign country (using the producer's dime, of course). They help American businessmen understand how to do business in a particular country. They help local companies find American products and producers to fill their needs.

They do a great deal of advocacy work to promote American products and services over those offered by third countries (like France).

In Saudi Arabia, one of the major work projects is on standards, ensuring that standards aren't jiggered to exclude American products, that local standards match up as closely as possible to US standards.

While I can certainly sympathize with Cranky Observers observation, Charles-Parker isn't one of those. She's extremely focused and an excellent forward planner.

posted by: John on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

"Just one day after an al-Qaida led band of terrorists invaded the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, killing nine workers"

Actually, of the nine deaths, four were attackers, and five were consulate employees. All Asian expat labor, IIRC.

posted by: Barry P. on 12.08.04 at 02:16 AM [permalink]

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