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Step 12: Negotiating and quoting in exports

You are here: Step 12: Negotiating and quoting in exports >Doing business abroad > Latin America



Latin America


Latin America includes the Spanish, Portuguese, and French speaking countries of South and Central America, and the West Indies. The pace of life and business in Latin America is traditionally slow, particularly when negotiations are underway, and Latin Americans are frequently late for appointments.

An American businessman was once reported to have said: Doing business in Latin America is like getting married in a formal, old-fashioned way. First, there's a period of courtship. It's a time of testing, a proving ground. If the two of you can manage to fall in love with each other, the rest becomes easier and negotiations take on a logic and momentum of their own. If you don't take the time for romance, the wedding will probably be called off. The business will go to a competitor who has the patience to cultivate a relationship first.


Latin Americans are brought up with a well-defined sense of social place, and society is fairly rigidly stratified. Social and business prominence, for example, depends a great deal on education, professional accomplishments and wealth. Family loyalties and commitments, friendships and business associations are also important in determining an individual's social status and prestige. Latins are brought up to respect key male authority figures, e.g. fathers, patrons, employers, etc., and consequently society is distinctly male-dominated. In some countries, such as Argentina, women do sometimes occupy senior positions in business and the professions but this is fairly unusual.

A primary concern in Latin American life is the preservation of `personalism', i.e. protection and enhancement of one's self-esteem - even at the expense of business practicalities. For the Latins, individual uniqueness is the source of dignity as a human being. Thus, by association, the family derives status or loses it by the achievements or mistakes of its members. Ironically, however, personlism tends to preclude teamwork because every individual tries to enhance his status at the expense of team goals. In business, respect for hierarchy and rank is the basis for face'. To keep, save or gain face, for example, senior executives may not consult subordinates on business issues before making an important decision. An intuitive decision is perceived to be the best because of the status of the person who makes it. If, later, a decision-maker is not blamed - out of respect for his status, it is taken for granted that anyone in the same position would have made the same mistake.

Latin Americans consider the telephone inappropriate for long business discussions because it is too impersonal. Normally, they use the telephone to ask simple questions or to set up appointments for more detailed discussions. Another drawback of using the telephone in Latin America is that local telephone systems are frequently poor. Making a connection could take up to an hour or more. All appointments should therefore be confirmed by telex/fax before your arrival in the country concerned.

After greeting and shaking hands with foreign guests (an embrace is also not uncommon) and after business cards have been exchanged, a Latin American host normally arranges for coffee to be served. Declining the coffee is symbolic of rejection of the Latin American's hospitality. (In a negotiating session, your Latin host might be joined by a number of his subordinates but in many cases they remain passive listeners). Normally, non-business matters are discussed while coffee is being drunk, permitting both parties to get to know each other as people rather than as professionals. You may spend anything from 15 minutes to an hour discussing the weather, local sights, sport or world affairs (i.e. those issues that are not personally sensitive).

Discussing family matters is usually not appropriate. It may happen that serious business is only discussed at a second or third meeting - traditional Latin Americans will be willing to get down to business only when they have decided that they like their visitors to the extent that they can consider a serious business relationship. During discussions, direct eye contact is important - especially during greetings and good-byes. The Latin speaking distance is very close, and touching is an important form of communication in that it is a sign of sincerity and trust. The work place also reveals different spatial preferences. Walled offices, for example, are often not status symbols as they block a person's view of his staff. Latins tend to talk with their hands to emphasise points and to ensure the attention of others. Foreign visitors should be careful not to reveal any feelings of discomfort at the Latin's display of emotion or closeness as it will be interpreted as a sign of insincerity and rejection.

To find out more about individual countries in South America and Central America, please try CountryHelp:

Central America and Caribbean

South America

Antigua and Barbadu
Costa Rica
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Lucia
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago

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Step 12: more information

Step12: Negotiating and quoting in exports
      The art of negotiating in export markets
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More information on Step 12
Learning to export...
The export process in 21 easy steps
Step 1: Considering exporting
Step 2:Current business viability
Step 3:Export readiness
Step 4:Broad mission statement and initial budget
Step 5:Confirming management's commitment to exports
Step 6: Undertaking an initial SWOT analysis of the firm
Step 7:Selecting and researching potential countries abroad
Step 8: Preparing and implementing your export plan
Step 9: Obtaining financing for your exports
Step 10: Managing your export risk
Step 11: Promoting the firm and its products abroad
Step 12: Negotiating and quoting in exports
Step 13: Revising your export costings and price
Step 14: Obtaining the export order
Step 15: Producing the goods
Step 16: Handling the export logistics
Step 17: Export documentation
Step 18: Providing follow-up support
Step 19: Getting paid
Step 20: Reviewing and improving the export process
Step 21: Export Management
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