The Foreign Service Journal, April 2021

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | APRIL 2021 31 FOCUS T he year 2020 redefined many jobs and businesses. Contending with the pandemic, plummeting international trade and invest- ment flows, and crippled international travel routes, many U.S. exporters found their business and work situations dramati- cally altered. To help our American clients, diplomats of the U.S. and Foreign Commer- cial Service, along with interagency colleagues, quickly pivoted multiple times to assist with lockdown emergencies, supply chain resilience issues and payment concerns, and to identify or vet foreign sources of supply of pharmaceutical and medical prod- ucts, and much more. In addition to coping with these evolving needs, most of us commercial officers found ourselves working longer hours virtually, on our personal computers. As the months passed, we watched many countries’ econo- mies enter the doldrums. Some governments responded by enacting inward-looking policies to focus on domestic produc- tion and erecting protectionist market barriers, which make it harder for U.S. companies to compete fairly. These changes propelled us into a new world. For many of us—and our clients—it was like entering into an entirely different environ- ment where we had to relearn or refashion work norms. At this point, we all want “our real lives” back. But a dose of pragmatism is in order. Given that the International Civil COMMERCIAL DIPLOMACY STRONG RAISING THE BAR IN THE VIRTUAL ERA In 2020 U.S. companies were forced into a new world of lockdowns and virtual relations, where work norms had to be refashioned. A commercial officer looks at the way ahead. BY A I L EEN NAND I Aileen Nandi is minister counselor for commercial affairs in New Delhi. She has served several tours each in India and Latin America, regions where personal relationships often define business connections. These views are her own and do not necessarily reflect official policy from the U.S. Department of Commerce. DIPLOMACY IN AN AGE OF DISRUPTION