Chapter 1

Working in trade

Key points

  • Trade contributes to national economic development and stronger, more innovative companies.
  • Trade representatives are well placed to address challenges that keep businesses from connecting to international markets.
  • The responsibilities are wide, the profiles are diverse, and titles differ.
  • The role has a long history. The way it is conducted has evolved.
  • Trade representatives are increasingly asked to promote inward investment or tourism.
  • Trade representatives are often based in diplomatic quarters, which has its pros and cons.


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This chapter sets out what it means to be a trade representative. it underlines economic research, showing the value that trade representatives bring to companies as well as the country they represent by supporting trade and investment. What trade representatives do today can influence the future of a country and its business communities.

An attractive aspect of commercial work abroad is its great variety. Here is an account of a typical day for Asha, a fictional trade representative from Africa posted to a European capital city.

A day in the life of


Asha was pleased to arrive in the warmth of her embassy office. She was still struggling to adapt to her first European winter and felt a long way from her home in Africa.

Her first task was to welcome a trade mission of businesses from her home country who were on a tour of six European capitals. Asha had helped to design their programme and had arranged one-to-one meetings for several of them with potential European clients. The eight members of the trade mission gathered eagerly in the embassy meeting room as Asha explained how European ways of doing business differed from those in Africa.

After the mission briefing, she made a Skype call to her counterpart in the trade ministry back home. Asha was keen to persuade the ministry to bring a delegation, led by the minister himself, to a big international commodities trade fair planned for later in the year. She thought it would be a great opportunity to do business, and the presence of a minister would open doors to the local authorities. She had assembled a lot of relevant data, mostly from websites, and felt that she was very close to getting a positive decision.

For lunch, Asha had a table reserved at a nearby restaurant to meet one of her local contacts in the textiles sector. Asha was writing a report on opportunities for African suppliers in the European textiles industry and wanted to use the lunch meeting to check that there really were sufficient prospects for business to justify her recommendation for a market visit. The feedback seemed positive, so Asha returned to the embassy and finalized the report for her country’s textiles industry association.

She also had to give some thought to her speech for an evening reception. In addition to the members of the trade mission, Asha had invited the chief executive officer (CEO) of a large European digital technology company looking to invest in Africa as part of the launch of its Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing concept. Asha helped her country’s national investment agency to prepare a pitch to attract this investment, and was looking for some indication from the CEO of potential barriers. She was sure that the recent growth of her country’s manufacturing sector and the availability of high quality graduates would be key selling points, so she would highlight them in her speech. She made a mental note to cover these points in her next blog, too.