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3.2: Opportunities in International Business

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Define importing and exporting.
    2. Explain how companies enter the international market through licensing agreements or franchises.
    3. Describe how companies reduce costs through contract manufacturing and outsourcing.
    4. Explain the purpose of international strategic alliances and joint ventures.
    5. Understand how U.S. companies expand their businesses through foreign direct investments and international subsidiaries.
    6. Understand the arguments for and against multinational corporations.

    The fact that nations exchange billions of dollars in goods and services each year demonstrates that international trade makes good economic sense. For an American company wishing to expand beyond national borders, there are a variety of ways it can get involved in international business. Let’s take a closer look at the more popular ones.

  • Importing and Exporting

    Figure 3.5


    The United States exports billions of dollars of soybeans to China annually.

    United Soybean Board – US Soybean Exports Infographic – CC BY 2.0.

    Importing (buying products overseas and reselling them in one’s own country) and exporting (selling domestic products to foreign customers) are the oldest and most prevalent forms of international trade. For many companies, importing is the primary link to the global market. American food and beverage wholesalers, for instance, import the bottled water Evian from its source in the French Alps for resale in U.S. supermarkets (Fine Waters Media, 2006). Other companies get into the global arena by identifying an international market for their products and become exporters. The Chinese, for instance, are increasingly fond of fast foods cooked in soybean oil. Because they also have an increasing appetite for meat, they need high-protein soybeans to raise livestock (Gale, 2003). As a result, American farmers now export over $9 billion worth of soybeans to China every year (American Soybean Association, 2010).

  • Licensing and Franchising

    A company that wants to get into an international market quickly while taking only limited financial and legal risks might consider licensing agreements with foreign companies. An international licensing agreement allows a foreign company (the licensee) to sell the products of a producer (the licensor) or to use its intellectual property (such as patents, trademarks, copyrights) in exchange for royalty fees. Here’s how it works: You own a company in the United States that sells coffee-flavored popcorn. You’re sure that your product would be a big hit in Japan, but you don’t have the resources to set up a factory or sales office in that country. You can’t make the popcorn here and ship it to Japan because it would get stale. So you enter into a licensing agreement with a Japanese company that allows your licensee to manufacture coffee-flavored popcorn using your special process and to sell it in Japan under your brand name. In exchange, the Japanese licensee would pay you a royalty fee.

    Another popular way to expand overseas is to sell franchises. Under an international franchise agreement, a company (the franchiser) grants a foreign company (the franchisee) the right to use its brand name and to sell its products or services. The franchisee is responsible for all operations but agrees to operate according to a business model established by the franchiser. In turn, the franchiser usually provides advertising, training, and new-product assistance. Franchising is a natural form of global expansion for companies that operate domestically according to a franchise model, including restaurant chains, such as McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken, and hotel chains, such as Holiday Inn and Best Western.

  • Contract Manufacturing and Outsourcing

    Because of high domestic labor costs, many U.S. companies manufacture their products in countries where labor costs are lower. This arrangement is called international contract manufacturing or outsourcing. A U.S. company might contract with a local company in a foreign country to manufacture one of its products. It will, however, retain control of product design and development and put its own label on the finished product. Contract manufacturing is quite common in the U.S. apparel business, with most American brands being made in a number of Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India (Gereffi & Frederick, 2010).

    Thanks to twenty-first-century information technology, nonmanufacturing functions can also be outsourced to nations with lower labor costs. U.S. companies increasingly draw on a vast supply of relatively inexpensive skilled labor to perform various business services, such as software development, accounting, and claims processing. For years, American insurance companies have processed much of their claims-related paperwork in Ireland. With a large, well-educated population with English language skills, India has become a center for software development and customer-call centers for American companies. In the case of India, as you can see in Table 3.1 “Selected Hourly Wages, United States and India”, the attraction is not only a large pool of knowledge workers but also significantly lower wages.

    Table 3:1 Selected Hourly Wages, United States and India
    Occupation U.S. Wage per Hour (per year) Indian Wage per Hour (per year)
    Middle-level manager $29.40 per hour ($60,000 per year) $6.30 per hour ($13,000 per year)
    Information technology specialist $35.10 per hour ($72,000 per year) $7.50 per hour ($15,000 per year)
    Manual worker $13.00 per hour ($27,000 per year) $2.20 per hour ($5,000 per year)

    Source: Data obtained from “Huge Wage Gaps for the Same Work Between Countries – June 2011,”, (accessed September 20, 2011).