Negotiating International Trade

When approaching the topic of negotiation, it can be challenging to understand how it is practically applied to international trade. Not only do negotiation and politics coincide, negotiation lays the framework for much of what goes on behind the scenes of international trade deals.

On the March 4th episode of Negotiations Ninja, Hampton Dowling, Managing Partner of The HCB Group, explains how negotiation is present within all political activity. 

“Negotiation is at the center of any and all progress of any country that intends to do business in the United States,” Dowling explains. “It’s important when you talk about politics, to know what goes on in the background.”

Dowling believes governments should observe negotiations in private just like companies do. If countries fail to do so, they put a lot of things at risk.

“There is a role for external influence or awareness,” says Dowling. “Such influence that goes around the negotiating table itself really needs to be limited by the lead negotiator. The purpose of political awareness at least in the US has to be balanced between constitutional requirements and the calculated mechanics of negotiations itself.”

Dowling also sheds light on how people’s egos can affect the tone of serious, advanced, and consequential negotiations.

“Any time you have people involved in negotiations, you’re going to have egos. It’s a product of central casting, regardless of anyone or everyone’s awareness to avoid it,” Dowling explains. “People have personalities which are part of the negotiator’s toolkit. Separating people from the subject that’s being negotiated assumes people are the problem, but generally speaking people are rarely part of the problem in negotiations.”

Dowling also delves into the necessary mindset people need to have when entering politically charged climates.

“Not everybody can be a winner on the same level. But generally speaking, when you go into these trade agreements, everyone is going to come out in better shape than they were before. Everyone is going to gain something but ultimately there is a pecking order when you leave the room,” Dowling explains. “Some partners are going to are going to win more than others.”

In order to be successful in a political negotiation, Dowling believes it is crucial to adequately prepare in advance, leverage appropriate technology, understand your vulnerabilities, and look from a devil’s advocate position.

Most importantly, he states that it is necessary to demonstrate respect for the objectives of the other side.

“Negotiation is about winning and losing, but not at the expense of the other party across the table from you because that party is with whom you’re going to do business,” says Dowling. “You have to form a relationship with another party. There’s no misunderstanding that there are things to be left on the table and there are gains to be made. But you can do so in a very respectful way.”

The reality of political negotiations is that no party is going to emerge scot-free. Dowling explains that negotiators have to be willing to lose something that is of value to them.

“The outcome may cost you something now that you may be able to go back and negotiate later or maybe not,” says Dowling. “So when you’re at the table and in preparations for going to the table, all that you need to be prepared for is to leave something on the table.”

Overall, it is important to realize that negotiations are present within every aspect of life from the big conversations to the small ones. Whether you are centre stage in a political performance or engaging in a simple discussion, the skillset is a crucial one to have.