Expatriates can play a role in facilitating international trade

Abdulrhman Alotaibi VOICES

OPPORTUNITIES sometimes reveal themselves in the least expected circumstances. Entrepreneurs around the world make their breakthrough by stepping up to the business gaps they have identified. Despite the importance of business planning and resources, the business concept is the core element that can convince buyer, investor and most importantly the founder to get behind it.

Some of us leave our home country to study or to work for an extended number of years. A person who travels to another country to work and to earn more than they would at home during a particular period is commonly referred to an expatriate. Saudi Arabia currently hosts 7.4 million expatriates working in various business sectors. At multiple levels, expatriates, along with Saudi citizens, contribute to the prosperity of the Saudi market and earn a decent income for themselves. While oversees, expatriates plan for their homecoming and time their departure to certain financial or social targets. This could be waiting for a child to finish education, building a house or receiving a retirement benefit. Some manage to reach these goals while, for others, things might not go as planned due to various reasons.

The special stage of life spent oversees provides numerous possibilities for the expat. With this in mind, I would like to shed light on the potential for a major role for expats in facilitating international trade given the advantageous position they have due to their connection to two separate countries. In the host country, locals will approach them to ask about matters regarding their home country and, likewise, when they go home, their fellow countrymen will ask them about the country they worked in.

An example to demonstrate the concept would be the gifts that expats bring to their loved ones when they travel. They look for something that brings joy to their people and they make considerable efforts to buy the right gifts. On some occasions, they might bring something from home to their friends in the host country when they come back from vacation. The same delicate act of selecting something unique to bring home as a gift can be applied on a larger scale in the context of trade by connecting two markets at virtually no cost or associated risk.

I would suggest the following to expatriates: Start with potential supply and demand for your company and help it identify the products and services that could possibly suit the market segments (communities) that you have a connection with in your home country. Similarly, with your company, identify opportunities for sourcing materials of better quality and or of lower cost from your home country. Internationally sourced materials and services are in high demand due to the historic association with luxury, added economical value, quality and cost leadership.

Your knowledge of cultures, languages and trends will allow you to act as a facilitator who connects businesses and provides valuable advice. Supporting your company to sell and buy internationally will have a positive effect and will bring mutual benefit. You will gain important knowledge and will grow and nurture trusted business relations in both countries. This entrepreneurial spirit will not be limited to your time as an expatriate employee; a natural evolution would be to start a trading business that builds on the networks that you have already established in both countries and potentially in other countries.

Saudi Arabia has a competitive advantage in the food sector as well as in construction materials. These two sectors represent most of the Kingdom’s non-oil exports. Other products can also be in demand in your country depending on the sector of your interest. On the other hand, your home country also has a competitive advantage with regard to certain products and services. The intended transaction could benefit from existing trade agreements between the two countries in addition to an array of national trade incentives provided by both countries.

The opening of new markets is the first challenge facing businesses and this is why the role of mediator is crucial in providing connections and advice that are relatively low-risk and low-cost ways to begin mutually-beneficial business relationships. The benefit is not limited to commercial profits since trade helps communities in both countries to improve their lives. Trade translates into increasing income and employment opportunities for local producers directly or indirectly involved in international transactions. It also contributes to GDP growth, and results in a positive effect on related industries.

In addition to exporting and importing products and services, you can also facilitate direct investment in the Kingdom which can be done via the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). A variety of investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia is now available in sectors of promising returns, such as chemicals, mining, information technology, healthcare, tourism, transport and logistics. Increasing foreign direct investment is among the goals of Saudi Vision 2030; thus, the Kingdom is enhancing its business environment and economic performance to attract and retain investors.

As an expatriate, you have already gained familiarity with both countries in terms of culture, regulations and the ways of doing business. There are different ways to approach your international trade endeavor to achieve the desired “win/win” outcomes. Do your research, start at a small scale, test the market and identify segments and demand. Even if the initial demand is not significant, it can go from niche to mainstream after some time depending on the availability in the target market. Adjust as required to respond to changes and maximize the returns. With this, your ties to overseas countries are not limited to employment, but also include sustainable and profitable business and people investments.

Abdulrahman Saleh Alotaibi

The writer can be reached at: otaias0y@gmail.com Follow him on Twitter: @otaibi3w