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Questions for United States Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke

April 19, 2010

from Gary Locke, United States Secretary of Commerce 

Why should exporting be important to my business? 
Ninety-five percent of the world’s population — and the vast majority of global purchasing power — are located outside of the United States. If you’re not exporting, it’s likely that your competitors are, and taking advantage of the new jobs that come with increasing sales. Exporting enables you to diversify your portfolio by spreading risk and weather changes in the domestic and world economies, as well as boost your competitiveness and bottom line. 

Tell us a little about the National Export Initiative (NEI) and how it will affect U.S. businesses.
President Obama has set a goal of doubling exports over the next five years to support 2 million jobs in America. His Administration’s NEI is focused on expanding trade advocacy, improving access to credit and continuing the rigorous enforcement of international trade agreements. This will help remove barriers that prevent U.S. companies from getting free and fair access to foreign markets.

The NEI will provide more funding, more focus and more cabinet-level coordination in the U.S. government to grow U.S. exports. The NEI represents the first time the United States will have a government-wide export-promotion strategy with focused attention from the President and his Cabinet. 

With traditional drivers of U.S. economic growth like consumer and business spending facing stiff headwinds, it has never been more important for American businesses to increase sales to consumers who live outside the United States. There remains a vast untapped potential for U.S. firms to grow through exports. Only a tiny percentage of American businesses export at all, and of those that do export, 58 percent sell to only one foreign market.

The Department of Commerce is positioned to help the President achieve his goal and to create and sustain jobs through expanded export promotion.

If I’m a U.S. business that doesn’t export, how can I begin?
Many smaller companies mistakenly believe that exporting is too complicated and just for large firms, or they are not aware of all the export and financing resources available to them. The Department of Commerce’s U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service strives to help small and medium-size companies realize their export potential in new markets overseas.

The Commercial Service, which is part of our International Trade Administration (ITA), is uniquely positioned to provide U.S. businesses with the support and counseling they need to begin exporting. A good first step is to call your local U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) — we have 109 offices across the United States. You can go to www.export.gov to find a local office near you.

Our international trade specialists help companies develop an export strategy tailored to their product line and identify target markets, potential customer profiles, pricing, marketing and distribution channels, and market barriers. They also establish a time frame for implementing each step of the plan and identify sources of export financing. 

If I already export, how can I grow and expand my exporting business?
You should develop an export marketing plan that taps market research to identify additional target markets and build entry strategies — utilizing the assistance of the Department of Commerce’s international trade specialists.

Once you select a market, you must identify qualified buyers, sales agents and distributors. There are multiple avenues to find buyers, including trade leads, matchmaking services, trade shows and missions, all of which are services provided by the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service.

Many exporters require export financing, which is why we work closely with the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and many community and regional banks to help provide access to credit. 

Technology is another important tool. If you sell online, ensure your Web site is international in scope and buyer-friendly by adapting it to meet the linguistic, cultural and commercial requirements of a target market. You should also make your Web-site navigation simple and visual.

What programs, tools and resources are available to help me export?
If you haven’t exported, or have exported infrequently in response to orders received from overseas buyers, we recommend contacting one of our USEACs. Your local USEAC will connect you with our global network of trade experts to help you find international buyers. 

If you have technical questions about exporting, we encourage you to contact our Trade Information Center (1-800-USA-TRADE), where a dedicated staff provides answers to questions such as tariff and tax rates, shipping logistics, and required documentation. 

The Department of Commerce also publishes A Basic Guide to Exporting, a valuable reference tool for any exporter. The book explains the exporting process and covers export planning, shipping, documentation, and more.

Finally, the department’s Advocacy Center leverages U.S. government resources to level the playing field on your behalf as you compete against foreign firms for foreign government contracts to help create and retain U.S. jobs through exports.

What are some of the emerging markets and opportunities I should look to — and why?
The Department of Commerce, along with other export agencies, is focused on strengthening commercial relationships with China, India and Brazil — markets with significant opportunities. In addition, we continue to support exports to our free trade agreement partners. These markets — which include Canada, Mexico, Chile, Israel and Singapore — often provide zero or reduced tariff rates for U.S. goods.

You can find a complete list of free trade agreements at www.export.gov/fta.

A foreign market that offers great opportunities for one industry may not be a good fit for another. Likewise, an emerging market that offers growth opportunities for an experienced exporter may be too risky for a new one. Our Commercial Service trade specialists can work with you to identify markets and opportunities that are best suited to your needs and experience.

That being said, the ITA has identified several sectors that offer potential, including information technology and telecommunications; biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical; environmental technologies, advanced manufacturing and alternative energy; oil, gas, energy and power production; and aerospace, defense and security.

How can the ITA help me take advantage of these opportunities? 
The U.S. Commercial Service is the trade promotion unit of the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. Our network of offices around the world provides counseling, advocacy, market research, and industry expertise in the identification of potential international buyers and partners. We can guide you through every step of the export process, from learning how to export to logistics and shipping issues. For a complete list of services, please contact your nearest USEAC or visit us at www.export.gov.

We can also help you through the facilitation of strategic partnerships, which leverage the customer base of private sector organizations, state and local governments, and trade associations, to provide access to the full range of federal export assistance programs.

Additionally, ITA enforces trade laws and develops strategies to obtain market access abroad for U.S. companies and to ensure other countries are in compliance.

In fiscal year 2009, we assisted more than 20,000 American companies — 23 percent of which achieved a milestone by exporting for the first time, entering a new market or increasing their international market penetration.

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