03/01/2012 01:37 pm ET Updated May 01, 2012

China on Your Mind?

Perhaps it's due to the fact that my home base is located on the West Coast of the United States, at the mouth of the Pacific Rim, but I noticed in dealing with new and aspiring exporters that most of them want to sell their products/services to the People's Republic of China (PRC). It's true that China is getting a lot of press and that it's a country on the move. No other country in the history of industrialization has transitioned from an agriculture-based economy to a manufacturing one faster than China. No other country has pulled so many people out of poverty faster and more efficiently than China. China without a doubt commands attention and deserves recognition.

As an international business developer, I've had the opportunity to work with several Chinese companies; some of them manufactured for my employers, some were my clients. And while selling to China did present some of the challenges I anticipated, it brought many others that blindsided me, requiring a severe adjustment of my cultural paradigms and a flexibility of the mind that had seldom been stretched that far!

Some of the biggest challenges I experienced were the lack of separation between the roles of government and the mechanism of the market; the incredible pace of change that blurred the rules and forced us to constantly operate in the grey; the complex concept of guanxi ("connections"), where everything is handled behind the scenes, making every step of the transaction riddled with anxiety with regard to potential problems with the FCPA. The list goes on and many stories could be extrapolated from those three basic concepts, but all point to the same conclusion: China is not for first timers. China is a place where only savvy international businesspersons should consider dealing. Getting lost and confused is easily done in China, and the cost is steep.

The question then becomes, where should a new exporter direct his efforts if China is reserved for the experts? While it's true that many other countries do not receive as much press as PRC, international economists have identified 11 fast-growing regions where a hungry new middle class is in the making and where U.S. products, if tweaked to fit the local taste and requirements, might be of interest: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey, and Vietnam. Out of those 11, five are located on the Pacific Rim and thus of easy approach for new exporters who may feel China is their only logical option. (Please consult the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act before considering selling to Iran.)

Of course, those 11 upcoming countries have their own cultural dimensions and their own sort of "guanxi," but most Western international experts would agree that, in comparison with China, those countries are of easier access to us. So please start looking at your products or services and find out, through assisted international market research, if you may have what it takes to gain new market shares in those fast-growing regions. It has never been easier to qualify for international trade loans and feel secure in your international footsteps. The time to export is NOW, and China is NOT the only bright spot on the horizon!