Tips for doing business in the Middle East

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Tips for doing business in the Middle East
by Bill May
Journal Record
5/22/2001The Internet has been touted as the next best thing to generate new business on a global scale.
But if you want to do business in the Middle East, shut down your computer, pack your bags and head out for some face-to-face meetings.That’s the only way you can do business in that region, said Sherwin B. Pomerantz, Oklahoma’s trade representative in Israel.”Also, when it comes to catalogs or material about the company, forget the Internet,” he said Monday. “People in our region like to have something they can see, touch and hold.

“Doing business in the region (Middle East) means you have to meet the companies and talk face-to-face. They don’t do business with people they haven’t met.”

Those are just two of the tips Pomerantz has for Oklahoma companies that want to do business in the Middle East.

Trade among nations over there has remained stable, despite the “temporary insanity that’s taken hold,” he said.

Oklahoma has a few products and services that Israelis and others within the Middle East would like to have, but usually “it’s just a case of who gets there first.”

“If you want to do business in that area, you’ve got to make the trip, meet the people you want to do business with, talk with them one-on-one and maybe you can come to an agreement,” he said. “They are not specifically looking for Oklahoma products, but American-made goods from the company that gets there first.”

Because of this, Pomerantz, who also represents several other states in the region, is putting together an international trade mission to Israel, Jordan and Turkey, Oct. 12-20.

The trade mission will be primarily for Oklahoma executives to meet with executives of companies in the three companies to start the negotiations for a trade relationship.

“Usually when you reach an agreement, that’s not the end of it, that’s just the beginning,” Pomerantz said. “The initial agreement is just to continue talks about the relationship. You have to reach another agreement to actually have trade.

“You can’t be impatient. Things go slow over there; they take their time. “They like doing business with Oklahomans because of the nature of Oklahomans, they immediately think there’s a good solution for every problem, then try to find it.”

Even though doing business in the Middle East is a matter of getting there first to start personal talks, there are three distinct areas in which Oklahoman are favored, he said.

“The first is agriculture, particularly livestock, because everyone over there is afraid to do business with Europe because of all the news about foot and mouth disease,” Pomerantz said. “They also want Oklahoma agriculture products, either the commodity or food products. Oklahoma has a great reputation. “Israelis like spicy food, such as salsa, and Oklahomans do a good job making it.”

Because of the hoof and mouth disease, beef and sheep sperm or embryos particularly are imported from the United States. “Because of all the great research going on at Oklahoma universities, agri-technology from Oklahoma also is sought after by the companies in the region,” Pomerantz.

The third element where Oklahoma excels is education.

“Most people don’t think of education as an export commodity, but it is,” Pomerantz said. “Oklahoma is one of the least expensive places for foreign students to get an education. That makes education a top export commodity. Bringing foreign students in not only helps the university, but it also helps the economy because of the money they bring.”

Besides the initial economic impact, the foreign students tend to become emissaries for the state.

“Let’s face it — the foreign students coming in are not of the lower income level,” Pomerantz said.

“When they go back, they remember the beauty of the state, the people and they want to do business with Oklahoma. As they rise in the leadership of the company or government, they talk about Oklahoma, tell about what was being developed or what they heard was going on. Then they insist that these products be bought from Oklahoma.”

One of the reasons the trade mission will spend time in Istanbul is that Turkey has been rejected for trade with other countries over the past few years, Pomerantz said.

“Pomerantz became Oklahoma’s trade representative to Israel in March 1999 when his company — Atid EDI — signed a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to help Oklahoma companies expand export potential in Israel.

The Oklahoma-Israel Exchange pays for the office, but day-to-day client services are provided in cooperation with the commerce department. Atid EDI, headquartered in Jerusalem, offers business consulting and trade representation services to Israeli and foreign businesses and organizations. Besides Oklahoma, the company also represents California, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The company represents Israeli exports and investments as representative of the America-Israel Chambers of Commerce in Atlanta, Chicago, Florida and Minnesota. Atid EDI, formed in 1991, has liaison offices in Istanbul and Amman, Jordan. Oklahoma business executives are scheduled to leave Oct. 12 and spend about nearly three days in Jerusalem, then one day in Amman and four days in Istanbul.

The group is scheduled to return Oct. 21.