How do social and cultural differences create barriers to international trade?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Factors such as the inability to communicate clearly, respect differences in behavior, and be aware of attitudes towards leadership can potentially create barriers in international trade, but these barriers can be overcome with sufficient preparation and willingness to adapt.

An awareness of the social and cultural differences that exist between nations and even between various ethnic populations within large nations is essential for the successful pursuit of international trade. Some of the main barriers brought on by these differences include problems with communication, interpretations of behavior, and attitudes toward leadership.

Difficulties in communication pose obvious barriers to international trade. Although English is commonly considered the language in which business is conducted, many foreign business leaders do not speak English, and so negotiations and other aspects of international trade agreements are conducted through interpreters. Important points as well as subtle nuances may be lost in the efforts to translate details from one language to another. Learning a few essential phrases in the language of the country in which business is being conducted may help to emphasize sincerity of effort, but only the ability to communicate clearly at all levels of thought can lead to successful negotiations and the forging of contracts and other agreements.

However, language is only one aspect of communication. It is also essential in the international sphere that businesspeople be aware of how foreign counterparts expect direct meetings, the sharing of information, and the discussion of differences to be conducted. Some cultures put a value on being brief and direct, while others prefer a more subtle and nuanced approach. Some cultures emphasize the importance of eye contact, while in other cultures, direct eye contact is considered rude. Similar differences exist with hugs, handshakes, kisses on the cheek, and other gestures. Some countries require them, while others deplore them. Learning what gestures are acceptable is one of the crucial steps to overcoming barriers of communication in international trade.

Another potential barrier to international trade is the differences in behavior in various countries and cultures. This impacts numerous business practices. For instance, Americans place great value on punctuality when keeping appointments, while in other countries, people are more flexible in their approach to time; they may consider themselves to be on time even if they are several minutes late. In some countries, putting in long hours at work is considered a sign of commitment, while in other countries, businesspeople who linger at the office may be seen as inefficient and neglectful of their families.

Unlike in America, where employers and workers often address each other by first names, businesspeople in many other countries take a more formal approach to workplace etiquette. Giving gifts to those you are attempting to impress is not only permissible but expected in some countries, but in other countries, gift-giving is considered a form of bribery.

Being unaware of cultural and societal attitudes toward leadership can create barriers to international trade. In the United States, people in junior management positions are often encouraged to speak up and present their opinions and ideas in meetings, while in countries such as Japan, this would be considered rude and disrespectful. Businesspeople who engage in international trade need to be aware of the attitudes of their foreign partners toward organizational hierarchies.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial