The marketplace for protein has been a global affair for some time. It's getting even more so. Exports and marketing agreements with foreign customers moved 55.6% more metric tons of beef in 1998, compared to 1989, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. This amounts to exports worth $2.8 billion in 1998, an increase of just more than $1 billion in the 10-year period.

Beef isn't alone in its efforts to build demand and expand market share in other regions. In addition to the dot.com businesses pervading the Internet, industry experts say all industries must plan for global business.

Like exporters in our own industry, World Distribution Services Inc. (WDS), www.wdsmail.com, realizes the opportunities in foreign markets. In fact, the Chicago-based firm places a priority on developing new overseas opportunities.

WDS is an international mail and distribution company that works with - and at times competes against - the U.S. Postal Service to distribute client materials via mail services in more than 185 countries faster and at lower costs than traditional, fixed rates allow. Its client base includes publishers, universities, associations, Fortune 500 mailrooms and booksellers.

Patrick Lynch, a WDS regional account executive in Lenexa, KS, says the emphasis on global market development has propelled annual growth rate to 15-20%. First year sales in 1986 stood at $146,000. Existing sales are $14 million annually.

"From the beginning, the owner's philosophy has been to hire those who know more about the distribution services industry than he does," Lynch says. "In doing so, we've built an infrastructure for administration, management and client relations.

"This infrastructure fosters an atmosphere of partnering with our clients, as opposed to just servicing them or selling them a product. We develop an understanding of the way clients like to do business - which helps create growth when a client's philosophy fits your own."

WDS practices relationship building on local and global scales.

"Just as we develop ties with our regional clients and distribution partners, our president continually creates and builds relationships with distributors and postal agents around the world," Lynch says. "From this comes new partnerships with postal services in countries we may have never been able to tap otherwise.

"Once established, we make sure these arrangements meet or exceed U.S. standards," Lynch says.

These tests determine how reliable a postal system is. Based on the results, WDS provides weekly updates to its clients on how quickly their materials move through a specific postal system. If difficulties arise, WDS may employ alternative distribution networks.

Following similar principles could help ensure continued growth of beef exports, Lynch says. Whether it's an entire industry or an individual firm, developing international business boils down to:

* fostering mutual business philosophies,

* continual product testing and

* meeting or exceeding standards.

It's working for WDS and it will work for U.S. beef exporters. To quote the WDS philosophy, "International doesn't mean foreign."