Answering the call to double U.S. exports

Doug Barry

Things are never boring—nor quiet—at the counseling center of the Trade Information Center (TIC) in Washington, D.C. For example, a man asks about selling pizza ovens to a buyer in Argentina. Seconds later come questions about selling aspirin to Iraq, Kentucky whisky to China, California wine to a safari camp in South Africa, medical devices to Peru, and plastic "Made in USA" wedding cake holders to Mexico. And so it goes on a typical day at this virtual export facilitation machine.

Since opening in 1993, the TIC, which is part of the Department of Commerce, has served as the central point of contact for U.S. exporters seeking counseling and advice. Would-be exporters ask how to start exporting, while other more experienced companies inquire about how to export a product that is already sold.

"We are constantly amazed by the innovative businesses represented by TIC inquiries," observes Susan Lusi, director of the counseling center. "But given that only about 1 percent of U.S. companies export, there is definitely a learning curve for new exporters and fears that must be confronted. For inexperienced companies and their employees, the paperwork and regulatory matters involved in making that first shipment can seem daunting. More experienced exporters need help choosing new markets and finding buyers in them. We can offer them that help."

Simplifying Routine Transactions

Callers to the toll-free telephone line are offered quick online tutorials for often-requested but important tasks, such as finding estimated duties and taxes imposed by different countries. Trade specialists can facilitate export transactions by offering step-by-step assistance on the telephone or through, the U.S. government's web portal for exporters.

That arrangement greatly simplifies routine export transactions. For example, one situation that exporters commonly encounter is a request from an international buyer that the U.S. seller provide a quote for the full delivered cost of a purchased item. The Web site has tools that can easily provide the estimates, and it can be viewed 24 hours a day. also offers other frequently needed export reference materials, such as commodity codes, templates of commonly used shipping documents, and the full texts of regulations imposed by different countries on different commodities.

Multiple Resources

Even more information is available to companies that register on the Web site. Registered companies gain access to market research and trade data and can be connected to a local trade specialist in one of the more than 100 Export Assistance Centers located across the United States.

Other resources offered by the TIC include more than 30 online videos; a free Webinar series about the basics of exporting; and indispensable publications, such as A Basic Guide to Exporting, which is a 250-page textbook on how to export, and Export Programs Guide, which is a guide to federal export assistance programs.

Upselling Exports

As trade specialists field calls, they are listening for clues that indicate whether the caller's company is shipping to one or two markets but has the capability to ship to many more, which will help grow the business. "Getting reactive U.S. businesses to proactively seek new markets is one way to double the percentage of exporting U.S. companies from 1 percent to a not unthinkable 2 percent," notes Lusi.

Many companies that start out calling the TIC go on to export products and services into multiple markets. They end up with far more markets than employees and with international sales leading total growth and profits.

Meanwhile, the phones continue to ring. Someone needs help selling custom-made recumbent tricycles to buyers in Japan. Oops, a Colorado company forgot to send paperwork with a shipment to India and needs help getting the merchandise out of customs.

Business is good, and the TIC aims to help make it better.

Doug Barry, Director of Marketing and Communications for the U.S. Commercial Service
Copyright 2011, Author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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