Erin Walsh, the new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service, believes U.S.-made products have a place abroad.
Exporting is an important source of revenue and jobs for the U.S. In 2016, exports of goods were $1,459.8 billion and accounted for 11.5 million jobs.
However exporting is not always an easy route. Many companies still aren’t exporting and of those who do, 59% only sell to one country.
Part of the problem is the many barriers to trade and Walsh is on a mission to change that. “U.S. companies are unable to operate on a level playing field,’ she told IndustryWeek at a conference “Discover Global Markets” held recently in Cleveland.
In order to get that level playing field her office, and the Commerce Department, which oversees her office, will “negotiate stronger trade deals that guarantees access to foreign markets.”
She has resources to work with as the government has a global network of trade and policy professionals located in 78 international markets and all 50 states. These offices provide advice to companies such as advising them where their products are in demand overseas. They can provide access to foreign government decision-makers and help with bidding on government-related projects overseas. (There are extensive resources online at the export.gov portal.)
“With120 office overseas, we are on the front line,” Walsh explained. “These offices can provide early warning systems back to the States that enables us to work with other agencies to find solutions.”
This assistance is especially important to small and mid-sized (SMEs) companies. A study just released by American Express, Grow Global Survey, found that 92% of U.S. small and mid-sized (SMEs) enterprises who export see international markets as a significant growth opportunity. Over the next year, 73% of small and mid-sized exporters anticipate a growth in sales from international customers; 29% over the next five years.
The study showed that many challenges to exporting still exist and in some cases have even increased since 2016. When asked about challenges related to selling goods or services in countries outside of the U.S., a large percentage of exporters noted the following as very or somewhat significant:
- Compliance with local laws – 80% (up from 73% in 2016)
- Building relationships with foreign partners – 79% (up from 75% in 2016)
- Trade regulations and transportation costs – 78% each (up from 73% each in 2016)
- Limited visibility into local competition – 71% (up from 63% in 2016)
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 has made exporting more viable than even for the smallest companies.”
Growth from abroad is an important growth strategy for the U.S. And Walsh has the larger picture in mind. “At the end of the day our economic security, is our national security,” says Walsh.