While much has been made about producing and buying products that are “Made in the USA,” there is another side to that equation.
The health of the U.S. economy is not just dependent on sales made in the U.S. Companies also need to bring in revenue by serving customers abroad.
In 2016, exports of goods were $1.4 trillion. This represents 7.8% of GDP and accounted for 11.5 million jobs.
So the U.S. government wants to make sure that these dollars, and jobs, keep rolling in. And they are letting current and potential exporters know that the government is at their service.
“We are committed to sustaining American jobs through fair trade,” Erin Walsh, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, told me recently at a conference here in Cleveland.
A new appointee, Walsh oversees the U.S. government’s global network of trade and policy professionals located in 78 international markets and all 50 states. And one of her first goals is to make sure that U.S. companies are able to operate on a level playing field. To help companies compete on an equal footing, her office, and the Commerce Department, which oversees her office, will “negotiate stronger trade deals that guarantee access to foreign markets.”
While she is busy fighting for our rights to fair trade, U.S. companies need to step up their game. Many companies don’t export. And of those who do, 59% export to only one country.
Many companies, in short, are leaving money on the table by not having a robust trade program. One of the reasons that these companies (which tend to be smaller firms) are not exporting is the perception that exporting is too burdensome. Documentation, regulations, and the risk of not being paid by potential international customers are also barriers-to-entry for some companies.
But those factors shouldn’t override the potential opportunity, according to the U.S. Commercial Service. They make the case that “the growth of emerging world markets, the rise of e-commerce, improved logistics options, and free trade agreements are among the major trends that have made exporting more viable than ever for even the smallest companies.” In fact, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 98% of U.S. companies that export are small- and medium-sized firms with fewer than 500 employees.
To help companies, the U.S. Commercial Service advises companies on how to use trade deals to their advantage, and help them overcome obstacles and barriers to international expansion.
They have four specific areas they operate:
Market Intelligence—Companies can receive customized reports on market potential as well as background checks on potential buyers or distributors.
Trade Counseling—The office provides information on export compliance and trade financing options.
Commercial Diplomacy—Specialists can help companies overcome a variety of trade obstacles.
Business Matchmaking—Regional offices will set up meetings with pre-screened vetted potential overseas partners.
“With 120 office overseas, we are on the front line,” Walsh explained. “These offices can provide early warning systems back to the States that enable us to work with other agencies to find solutions.”
And the office can provide practical advice as well as letting a company know where their products are in demand overseas and what opportunities exist. They can provide access to foreign government decision-makers and help with bidding on government-related projects overseas.
“At the end of the day,” Walsh says, “our economic security is our national security.”