Exports often get little attention from trade critics, but President Obama used his State of the Union address to stress the opportunities for economic growth through exporting.
“The more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America. So tonight, we set a new goal: We will double our exports over the next five years, an increase that will support two million,” the president said in announcing a new National Export Initiative.
There is plenty of room for growth: Less than 1 percent of American companies export, and of those companies, 58 percent sell in only one market. One reason for this weak performance is that most companies are afraid to dip their toes outside the United States. That is why President Obama’s budget request to Congress for fiscal 2011 includes nearly $80 million in new funding for the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration, increasing its allocation to $540 million. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke says the new resources will allow ITA to:
- Bring on as many as 328 trade experts to serve as advocates for U.S. companies;
- Assist more than 23,000 clients to begin or grow their export sales in 2011;
- Put a special focus on increasing the number of small and medium-sized businesses exporting to more than one market by 50 percent over the next five years;
Increase the number of trade advocates in emerging high-growth markets like China, India and Brazil;
Develop a comprehensive strategy to identify market opportunities in fast-growing sectors like environmental goods and services, renewable energy, health care and biotechnology.
The prime beneficiary of the increased ITA funding would be the U.S. Commercial Service, the Commerce Department’s export arm. It focuses primarily on small and medium businesses, but its services can be very valuable to large exporters, too. The Commercial Service has a twofold mission: help companies that are new to exporting and help existing exporters expand into new foreign markets.
The Commercial Service has trade specialists at Export Assistance Centers in 109 U.S. locations and at U.S. embassies and consulates in 77 countries. They will help you find out which markets offer the best opportunities and identify prospective customers, distributors and partners. They will even arrange appointments for you.
The Commercial Service also helps with trade missions and trade shows, including bringing foreign buyers to U.S. trade shows. “I don’t know of a single company that has a competitive product that is really interested in selling to new markets and that has used Commerce Department services that has failed — as long as they work at it,” says Frank Vargo, vice president international at the National Association of Manufacturers.
The Commercial Service’s Trade Information Center (800-872-TRADE) is a single point of contact for potential exporters and provides basic export counseling and information on all U.S. government export assistance programs. The agency’s Web site, http://export.gov, is a fabulous resource and a great starting point for any company that is new to exporting or that wants to expand into new markets. Its many features include specific information on individual markets, such as China, India and Africa, as well as export basics, opportunities and solutions. In addition, you can sign up for e-mail updates on exporting in general as well as information specific to your industry.
The International Trade Administra-tion’s Market Access and Compliance unit, at http://trade.gov/mac, also helps exporters. It identifies and overcomes trade barriers, resolves trade policy issues, and ensures that U.S. trading partners fully meet their obligations under trade agreements.