Foreign trade is more sensitive than most business fields to political decisions. The future is uncertain and will remain so until the outcome of President Donald Trump's actions on trade policy become clearer. Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, as part of his promise to bring jobs and manufacturing back to the United States. He also renegotiated NAFTA and other trade pacts and imposed 10 percent aluminum tariffs and 25 percent steel tariffs in 2018, which benefited domestic steel mills but caused input costs to rise for other manufacturers. In 2020, the United States remained embroiled in a trade war with China in which U.S. tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods had been met with retaliatory tariffs. In addition to the average American consumer, those affected by the trade war included U.S. soybean farmers and pork producers. The two nations had reached a phase one trade agreement, which eased some of the negative effects, but the long-term outcome of negotiations remained unknown. As of March 2021, the U.S. and China trade war continued. To date, the Biden administration has made no changes to the tariff structures and is reportedly reviewing the phase one trade agreement, according to a report by The Diplomat.
The United States and China were not the only nations contributing to international trade uncertainties as the 2020s began. The United Kingdom, a key U.S. ally, voted in June 2016 to leave the European Union, the "Brexit," throwing long-standing trade accords into question and renewing interest in unilateral trade agreements. Following passage of the EU Bill in January 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on January 31 of that year. Wars, natural disasters, disease, weather, and many other factors can influence trade. The COVID-19 pandemic that started in January 2020 illustrated this when efforts to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus led to the shutdown of major international travel and trade, creating product and supply shortages in many nations and contributing to widespread unemployment in the U.S. by the second quarter of 2020, international trade had dropped by nearly 19 percent. How international trade and supply chains might differ when it resumed after the outbreak ends remains uncertain. It is difficult to predict long-term future prospects. It is safe to observe, however, that nearly all nations stand to benefit from easy and equitable global trade.
In early 2021, the vaccine for COVID-19 started to roll out. As its distribution accelerates nationally and around the world, the economy will recover. As the pandemic becomes contained, life will return to normal but it may be a "new" normal, according to an article by the Brookings Institute. "People in advanced economies may do more work from home permanently, reducing demand for cars and gasoline. We may have less demand for office and retail space. Those changes would tend to put downward pressure on commodity prices and trade volumes." In the coming years, there will be increased demand for electronics and less demand for autos and clothing.
As for the import industry, the U.S. International Trade Commission reported that, in 2020, U.S. firms that were new to the market or bringing new products to the market faced challenges regarding timelines for designing products and getting them certified, as well as purchasers being hesitant about using unknown suppliers. In addition, U.S. producers continue in 2021 to face "a conundrum when deciding whether to invest in domestic production, as there is little certainty about long-term demand and the ability to recoup investments." There is also the concern that after the pandemic ends, purchasers will go back to buying from the lowest cost suppliers, which are offer from overseas manufacturers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of buyers and purchasing agents in all industries will decline by 6 percent from 2018 to 2028 because of outsourcing and the increasing automation of procurement tasks. The outlook is better for accountants and auditors, with 6 percent growth projected across all industries, and market research analysts, with 20 percent growth.
It is not easy to break into the international field in the large corporations, although some students are recruited occasionally for overseas service. Large companies that have been abroad for many years have well-established programs and hiring practices. They may have programs that train within the company for work abroad, or they may be able to rely on the local nationals to run most of the organization. Usually, a number of years must be spent in the domestic office learning the business and the company and often specializing in one aspect of it. Maturity and experience in decision making ordinarily must be gained in the United States before a person is sent overseas.
Many import-export jobs are relatively short in duration. The trend in recent years has been to send overseas only those U.S. employees who have skills and abilities not available locally. Americans go overseas to train local nationals in technical know-how and management techniques or as engineers or contractors on a project. After two or three years, perhaps longer, they are replaced by the local nationals they have trained. Therefore, many overseas jobs are temporary as companies send people skilled in setting up a manufacturing process or researching a new market for just a few years.
Since new technology has made the world smaller, even small and medium-sized companies are now able to venture into import or export. They can use the Internet and interactive video to display products, solicit customers, shop for supplies, and make arrangements for credit, insurance, and transportation. Often, jobs in import-export are undefined because the work is new to most companies. Self-motivation, creativity, and openness to world cultures are essential to the employee who will be breaking new territory for a company. Given the volatility of the field, the best that people interested in an import-export career can do is to ensure they have the basic skills needed, such as accounting, foreign language, and market research.