The Foreign Service Economic Officer helps strengthen (or minimize) ties between the U.S. and the host country. By working with many different people in and out of government, the Economic Officer seeks out the information that will benefit U.S. business. This can be as global as putting together a trans-ocean agreement or environmental package, to as local as determining human trafficking in a specific port city of the host country. For this reason, the Economic Officer could work on a range of issues at smaller posts, or on very specific ones in the larger.
What follows are three written pieces, by the Department of State (DoS), the American Foreign Service Association, and the DoS “Becoming a Foreign Service Officer” brochure, to assist you in better understanding what the Economic Officer does.
Department of State Main Website
Resourceful negotiators who build and maintain positive economic and trade relations between the U.S. and other countries.
As an Economic Officer, you’ll work with U.S. and foreign government officials, business leaders, international organizations, and opinion-makers as you promote national security through economic security.
Myth: Economic Officers must bring an in-depth knowledge of quantitative economics into the Foreign Service.
Reality: While having an economics background is useful, it’s not required. Foreign Service Economic Officers focus on developing relationships with important economic figures, including those in the business community, the government and opposition, non-governmental organizations, academia and multilateral organizations. They promote U.S. economic and commercial interests. Their reporting and analysis on economic conditions and trends in the host country influence U.S. policy formulation and implementation.
Economic Officers receive extensive training in economics, trade, commercial diplomacy, energy, or environmental issues. As you learn new skills and enjoy outstanding benefits, you’ll influence and implement economic and trade policy as you help unravel the complexities of a global economy by:
- Coordinating with international economic organizations and other countries to resolve market challenges, promote fair practices, and advocate U.S. policy.
- Working with other countries to address science, environmental and health issues.
- Identifying global opportunities for U.S. businesses to ensure that American entities can fairly compete for foreign investment and trade and reducing impediments.
- Promoting economic development in under-developed or newly emerging countries.
- Negotiating agreements and promoting policies that enhance the safety, security, and efficiency of travel and transportation.
- Researching, analyzing, interpreting, and advising on the implications of global energy supplies on U.S. interests.
- Promoting international standards for the development, usage, and security of emerging communications technology and other critical infrastructure.
The American Foreign Service Association
Economic officers are at the forefront of the trends shaping our world and America’s place in it. They identify the world’s next economic trouble spots, as well as important opportunities overseas for U.S. companies. Their contacts include everyone from local government officials and business leaders to central bankers and representatives of the big international financial institutions. Economic officers must be comfortable conversing with all of them.
Like political officers, economic officers have fewer supervisory responsibilities early in their careers than consular and management FSOs. Instead, they focus on building subject-matter expertise in areas such as energy security and trade policy. They write congressionally mandated reports on a wide range of issues, from evaluating a country’s level of intellectual property rights protection to reviewing investment disputes and market access concerns. They deliver economically focused messages from Washington to the host government and try to persuade local interlocutors to support U.S. policy positions.
Actually, “economic officer” is somewhat of a misnomer, for the issues handled in this career track go far beyond economics. These officers are responsible for all matters related to the environment, science, technology, health, and labor. They work closely with U.S. diplomats from the Foreign Commercial Service and the Foreign Agricultural Service, handling those issues fully at smaller posts where these departments may not be represented. Economic officers level the playing field for U.S. companies, promote U.S. exports abroad, and work closely with local American Chambers of Commerce.
Economic officers also advise the ambassador on all matters in their portfolio, often writing speeches on economic matters for embassy leadership or delivering them in person. They serve as control officers for high-level U.S. government visitors, devising agendas and arranging site visits to local ports or factories. As they rise through the ranks, economic officers may become lead U.S. negotiators for economically focused bilateral or multilateral treaties and agreements.
While the work in this career track requires a certain familiarity with economic, trade, and business principles, even the best economic officers spend very little time crunching numbers. While many enter with some background in economic and business affairs, the State Department also offers first-class training opportunities to those economic officers wanting or needing a skills upgrade. The best economic officers combine this technical expertise with analytical minds and excellent writing and people skills.
Becoming a Foreign Service Officer Brochure
Following is an overview of a potential progression as an Economic Officer:
- Work in an economic section under the direction of a more experienced officer
- Develop a network of contacts in the host government and local business community so as to keep informed on local developments
- Prepare economic analyses and recommend strategies for implementation of U.S. policies
- At a small post, you may supervise one or two locally-hired employees who work on trade issues and manage a small commercial library
- Serve as chief of a small economic affairs section, supervising local staff and one or two entry-level officers
- Brief the Ambassador and visiting dignitaries and business people on local conditions and issues that affect U.S. policy and support the visits of U.S. officials on these matters
- Report or supervise economic reporting to Washington
- With guidance, you will persuade the host government to support U.S. policies on a range of economic, environmental and commercial issues
- Responsible for developing and implementing U.S. policy on bilateral and multilateral economic and trade issues, including debt relief, free trade, international finance and development assistance
- If posted in Washington, D.C., you will likely travel as the USG negotiator of bilateral or multilateral treaties on issues such as aviation, environment, or investment. You will have opportunities to be an office director, supervising a large number of officers
- Manage a large economic or political-economic section, advising the Ambassador on the full range of economic issues
- Make demarches to the host government and meet with host government officials at the Ministries of Finance, Trade, Economy, Communications, Transportation, Environment, Labor, as well as the Central Bank, Civil Aviation Authority, or Chamber of Commerce
Looking for more information?
Along with the publications listed above as great resources to review, FSO Compass has interviews with current and former diplomats to help you gain a better idea of what the role is all about.