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Benin is Powering Up and Wants U.S. Products and Expertise

July 10, 2015
Omar Arouna,Benin Ambassador to the United States

The Benin Ambassador to the United States, Omar Arouna wants more Americans to do business in Benin.

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist in the International Trade Administration’s Global Knowledge Center.

It’s not every day when a credentialed ambassador to the United States leans over, eyes brightening, and says, “If small U.S. companies come to Africa, they will make money.  A lot of money.”

He smiles as he savors the words a lot, as if tasting something delicious.

But then it’s back to reality.  He’s asked about perceptions among U.S. businesspeople that much of Africa is decidedly unpalatable, unhealthy, unfriendly, and unprofitable.

The Benin Ambassador to the United States Omar Arouna has heard it all before.  “Benin has been a stable democracy since 1990,” he explains.  “We have the same values, the same aspirations as the American people.  We see things exactly like the American people.”

He wants more Americans to do business in Benin, a country the size of Kentucky on the coast of West Africa. Benin’s 10 million people work mostly in the service sector and in agriculture, where the main exports are cotton, pineapple, and cashews.

The port of Cotonou provides access to the sea for the inland countries of Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.  “We’re a small county with a big footprint,” said Arouna, referring to Benin’s location and access to a much larger regional market of more than 300 million people, including its big next door neighbor Nigeria.

But perhaps the best money-making opportunity is in Benin, with immediate business to be generated, thanks to $400 million from the people of the United States.  Benin has entered into a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an arm of the State Department that doles out development dollars in exchange for demonstrable progress in good governance and building a market economy.

Power to the People                                                  

Combustion Associates does business in Benin

Combustion Associates confirms that Benin has been good for business.

This round of funding (a previous round helped build a port) is to strengthen the energy sector with a focus on renewables, including bio mass and solar.  More power generation at cheaper prices is needed to boost productivity, and any surplus can be sold to the regional power grid for consumption by other countries all the way to Cote d’Voire.

“We need the technology and expertise of the smaller U.S. companies,” said Arouna.  “The scale of what we need is better suited to the smaller company.  We need consulting services, hardware, even companies and investors to build and operate power-generating facilities.”

He said that there are a number of small U.S. companies working in Benin, including Combustion Associates, which manufactures portable power plants.  The owners, who are clients of the Commercial Service, confirmed that Benin has been good for business.

The Benin government is responsible for managing the MCC funds procurement process, and while the assistance is not tied (there’s no requirement that U.S. contractors be used), Arouna made it clear that he hopes U.S. companies will submit proposals when the tenders start coming out via the government’s website in late August and continuing into next year.

For businesses wanting to hit the ground running, a trade mission to Benin is scheduled for August 3-7.  If you want to talk business, Arouna says you can contact him by email directly at the embassy in Washington, D.C., emphasizing that you “don’t even need an appointment.”

“Better yet,” he said, ”I’ll meet you at the airport in Benin.”  And he’s not saying that to be diplomatic.  He means it.

For more information on the trade mission to Benin, visit the trade mission page on the Embassy’s website. Read the rest of this entry »

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U.S. Metropolitan Areas Set Export Highs in 2014

July 9, 2015

Stefan M. Selig is the Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade.

2014 Metropolitan Area ExportsToday, U.S. businesses are increasingly taking advantage of export opportunities. The data makes it clear. Companies based in the United States that sell their world-class goods to the 96 percent of potential customers who live outside our borders are critical to both the local and national economy. This is evident in today’s release of the 2014 Metropolitan Area Export Overview. The report highlights data on goods exported from U.S. metropolitan areas in 2014. Some of the nation’s most prominent cities are leading in trade and setting new export records.

Metro area exporters are breaking down trade barriers around the world and are expanding their businesses by reaching global markets. Doing so enhances the international competiveness of U.S. firms while also creating more well-paying jobs here at home. U.S. metropolitan area goods exports exceeded $1.44 trillion in 2014, up $36 billion from 2013, and accounted for 89 percent of total U.S. goods exports last year. There were 139 metro areas that registered record goods exports in 2014, and for the first time ever, 161 metropolitan areas each tallied goods exports worth more than $1 billion in 2014.

The energy and excitement metropolitan areas bring throughout the nation is driving creativity and partnerships. U.S. businesses are exporting the quality products of American innovation and hard work to customers across the globe. For example, during the past several years, we have seen a boom in the great city of Houston. For a third consecutive year, the city has ranked number one with total goods exports of $119 billion.

The metropolitan areas of New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Detroit round out the top five metropolitan areas for goods exports. Twenty-nine of the top 50 metropolitan area exporters recorded positive growth in goods exports between 2013 and 2014. Twenty-six of these areas set record export levels last year.

Top 50-ranked metropolitan areas that exhibited particularly high growth in goods exports from 2013 to 2014, included El Paso, Texas (up nearly 40 percent); San Antonio, Texas (nearly 34 percent); Charleston, S.C. (up more than 69 percent); and Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin, S.C. (up nearly 25 percent) — each reaching a record for that metro area.

For more information on ITA’s Metropolitan Export Series including a complete methodology and FAQs, visit the Metropolitan Export Series homepage.

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E Star Award Winner Volk Optical Saving Sight and Supporting Exports

July 7, 2015

This is a guest blog post by Pete Mastores, President, Volk Optical

ophthalmic lenses In May, the Department of Commerce hosted the 52nd  Annual President’s “E” Awards honoring U.S. companies for their contributions to increasing our nation’s exports. The awards are broken into two designations: “E” Award for Exports for first time winners and “E” Star Award for Exports for previous recipients who continue to demonstrate significant contributions to the expansion of U.S. exports.

Having received a first time “E” Award for Exports in 2011, Volk Optical was recognized this year with an “E” Star Award for Exports for the continued success of our exports program. One of only 4 product manufacturing exporters awarded this distinction, Volk has seen steady growth in export sales since its first “E” Award.

Our company manufactures ophthalmic lenses, portable diagnostic imaging products, and surgical ophthalmic viewing systems and lenses that are used to diagnose and treat conditions of the eye. Eye doctors globally use Volk’s products provide the best possible eye care, thus improving vision.

ophthalmic lensesIt’s gratifying to have our export strategy recognized with a second President’s “E” Award and Star distinction. Our focus, strategy, and personnel additions have allowed our export business to grow consistently for 8 years.  Volk takes the proven approach of focusing on a single region for a one year period, establishing distributors, attending regional tradeshows, and securing the necessary regulatory product registrations and approvals. We concentrate our efforts on entrenching our core product line of ophthalmic diagnostic, laser treatment, and surgical lenses, after which that region is expected to grow organically. After the initial year, Volk turns its eye to growing demand for our more technical and capital-intensive products such as eye imaging cameras and surgical systems. These products require more education and effort to sell, so training of our worldwide distributors was critical. They take time and effort to sell, so the commercial approach requires established, trained, savvy boots on the ground.

We applied this approach first in Europe, then South America, India, China and the Middle East. Volk’s commercial expansion was supported by our parent company, Halma plc, which set up office hubs in developing markets. Having a regional base of operations helped us establish our international sales force.

Additionally, Volk has been assisted along the way by the efforts of the International Trade Administration (ITA) and U.S. free trade agreements. Some of the benefits from a U.S. Free Trade agreement is in lowering our costs of procurement of raw materials, components, etc., as well as in expanded global sales opportunities, allowing us to provide affordable optical medical devices.

Free trade agreements have helped Volk a lot and will continue to do so. We still manage everything out of Mentor, Ohio– the design, the manufacturing, the sales and marketing. The free trade agreements have allowed us to save significant time and money in going to market in foreign countries. We’ve kept and created jobs here in the U.S., as well as internationally, by putting people in the field to support our export efforts.

Volk has also benefited from the services of the U.S. Commerce Department which has been instrumental in assisting us with Gold Key programs to identify distribution channels around the world.

Volk expects export growth to continue as more and more developing countries’ eye doctors are able to afford Volk’s high quality, high performance lenses  and electronic diagnostic imaging devices to provide the best eye care to their patients.

Winning the U.S. President’s E Award in 2011 certainly excited and challenged us to continue to grow our international export business for the past 4 years in order to win this prestigious E Star Award. We’re eager to see what the next several years hold for Volk Optical.

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Spotlight on Brazil: Investment Ties Our Economies and Communities Together

July 1, 2015

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Vinai Thummalapally is the Executive Director of SelectUSA.

Graph showing the growth in Brazilian assets in the United States, from $29.2 billion in 2007 to $93.6 billion in 2012. Source: Brazil-US Investments Map by Apex-Brasil.

Graph showing the growth in Brazilian assets in the United States, from $29.2 billion in 2007 to $93.6 billion in 2012. Source: Brazil-US Investments Map by Apex-Brasil.

With Brazil President Dilma Rousseff visiting the United States this week, the U.S.-Brazil relationship is front and center on the national stage. Last week, I spoke at the launch of the Brazil-U.S. Investments Map [PDF], a new report highlighting Brazilian foreign direct investment in the United States. The report was produced by the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex-Brasil), the Brazil Industries Coalition, and the National Confederation of Industry of Brazil.

According to the report, the value of Brazilian majority-owned total assets in the United States grew by 221 percent between 2007 and 2012 to $93.6 billion (see graph). The value of U.S. majority-owned total assets in Brazil has also grown during the same period to $283 billion, and represents 53 percent of all U.S. majority-owned assets in South America. This growth in bilateral investment supports many jobs for U.S. and Brazilian workers. As of 2012, U.S. subsidiaries of Brazilian firms employ more than 76,100 workers in the United States according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

During the launch event’s panel discussion , I enjoyed hearing from Antonio Moreira, CEO of North American operations for the global IT company Stefanini. Headquartered in Sao Paulo, Stefanini has invested in seven U.S. states during the last 15 years and employs more than 2,000 associates in the United States. According to Moreira, the key to Stefanini’s success has been preserving the company’s culture and values while respecting each community’s local culture and way of doing business.

SelectUSA Executive Director Vinai Thummalapally (third from right) participates in a panel discussion hosted by CSIS Americas for the launch of a new report on U.S-Brazil bilateral investment flows.

SelectUSA Executive Director Vinai Thummalapally (third from right) participates in a panel discussion hosted by CSIS Americas for the launch of a new report on U.S-Brazil bilateral investment flows.

Knowledge-intensive industries such as IT services are critical to U.S.-Brazil bilateral investment—the aerospace sector is another great example. Brazil-based Embraer, the world’s third-largest aircraft manufacturer, has facilities in four U.S. states and a large number of local parts and equipment suppliers in the United States. This highly innovative sector represents a tremendous opportunity for investors, and I hope to see a strong delegation of Brazilian companies at the National Aerospace FDI Exposition in Los Angeles, on October 26-28, 2015.

Across all industries, the U.S. Commercial Service is working closely with local associations in Brazil through the SelectUSA program to support cross-border projects by Brazilian companies looking to start or expand operations in the U.S. market. Here at home, our team of investment experts can help U.S. states, cities, and regions attract Brazilian investors to their communities.

Both international companies and U.S. economic development organizations (EDOs) can take advantage of SelectUSA’s free services to get market-specific information and counseling. I invite all U.S. EDOs to consider signing up for our SelectUSA Road Show to Brazil on December 1-4, 2015, where they will meet directly with investors in three cities. Stay tuned for a webinar in mid-July with more details, and you can contact Investment Specialist Andre Leal with any questions in the meantime.

The future is bright for the U.S.-Brazil economic relationship, and I look forward to welcoming many more Brazilian companies to our communities in the years to come.

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Helping Middle Market Companies Increase Overseas Revenue: ITA’s new partnership with American Express

June 30, 2015

This post contains external links. Please review our external linking policy.

Jillian Doody is the International Trade Administration’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.  

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis Marcus Jadotte (right) and American Express Vice President of Business Development for Middle Market Southeast Franki Lupo Schmidt announce partnership to help increase trade education and awareness of export opportunities for U.S. businesses.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis Marcus Jadotte (right) and American Express Vice President of Business Development for Middle Market Southeast Franki Lupo Schmidt announce partnership to help increase trade education and awareness of export opportunities for U.S. businesses.

Earlier today, Assistant Secretary Jadotte joined American Express Vice President of Business Development for Middle Market Southeast Franki Lupo Schmidt to announce a new partnership to help increase trade education and awareness of export opportunities for U.S. businesses. During the ceremony in Atlanta, Jadotte and Schmidt signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) and American Express (AmEx).

The joint effort will focus on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and AmEx’s Grow Global program which targets middle market businesses – those generating between $10 million and $1 billion in revenues annually.

The MOA was signed during AmEx’s Grow Global kick-off event. During the kick-off, businesses heard from top industry experts and met one-on-one with agents, distributors, government and industry officials, and other business leaders who are already successfully exporting their goods and services to markets around the world.

Last month, American Express announced the launch of Grow Global at ITA’s Discover Global Markets event in Miami. AmEx’s program is designed for companies that are considering exporting as a growth opportunity, as well as business that are currently expanding their business into markets outside the United States with the goal of increasing goods and services exports to international markets.

As a part of our partnership, ITA and AmEx will work together to increase awareness of the economic benefits of trade; educate U.S. business about exporting as a job creation and growth strategy; generate awareness of ITA and U.S. government resources; and encourage businesses to seek ITA assistance.

With 96 percent of the potential consumers for U.S. goods and services living outside of the United States, ITA has a critical role in helping U.S. companies be more competitive in the global marketplace. In 2013, 59 percent of all small and medium-sized exporters posted sales to only one foreign market. Increasing the number of markets, even by a small percentage, could have a big impact on the U.S. economy, and create more jobs in communities across the country.

One way ITA helps increase the number of markets our clients export to is by partnering with companies like American Express. Our Strategic Partnership Program leverages partnerships with trade associations, private corporations, chambers of commerce, and state and local governments to broaden and deepen the U.S. exporter base. Through these innovative public-private partnerships, the U.S. Department of Commerce communicates with millions of U.S. businesses about global business and export opportunities.

 

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ASEAN Information is Now Easier to Find on Export.gov

June 30, 2015

Andrew Edlefsen is the Director of the Las Vegas U.S. Export Assistance Center and currently serves as Global Asia Team Leader.  He has been with ITA for eight years.

Screenshot of Export.gov/ASEAN

Screenshot of Export.gov/ASEAN

I’m very excited to announce the launch of the new, ASEAN website as part of Export.gov. Developed by the U.S. Commercial Service in Bangkok, the site highlights trade opportunities in the 10 ASEAN countries: Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. The site serves as a valuable resource for U.S. companies exploring business opportunities in the region.

Located in the heart of the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN countries are composed of vastly different markets and economies, each possessing their own unique challenges, but all of which hold huge potential for U.S. exporters in a myriad of industry sectors.  Highly notable is the region’s 626 million population and $2.4 trillion economy, which has grown 300 percent since 2001, making it the second fastest growing Asian economy after China.  A proven U.S. export destination, ASEAN countries, taken together, rank 4th after Canada, Mexico and China as a goods export market for the United States, and the United States is the third largest trading partner for ASEAN.  In 2013, U.S. exports to the ASEAN countries ($79 billion) accounted for 5 percent of overall U.S. exports while U.S. goods and services exports to ASEAN supported an estimated 499,000 jobs (365,000 from goods exports and 134,000 from services exports).

The top ASEAN export markets for U.S. originating goods in 2014 were Singapore ($30.5 billion), Malaysia ($13.1 billion), Thailand ($11.8 billion), Philippines ($8.5 billion), Indonesia ($8.3 billion) and Vietnam ($5.7 billion) with the top export prospects including aerospace, energy, infrastructure, medical equipment, environmental technologies, and franchising.

ASEAN is moving toward economic integration, with the goal of creating an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015. The AEC will build on the existing ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) to establish a single market and production base that allows for the free movement of goods, services, and skilled labor. It will also allow for a more open flow of capital and investment, thus increasing its appeal as one of the world’s most attractive consumer markets.

The U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service has a strong presence in the ASEAN region, with offices in Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, which provide direct counseling and assistance to U.S. companies doing business in these markets.  The ASEAN Commercial Service office, headed by Regional Senior Commercial Officer Margaret Hanson-Muse, is located in Singapore.

Be sure to visit www.export.gov/asean and take advantage of this amazing resource!

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American Competitiveness and the Global Race for Export Success

June 30, 2015

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Post by Fred P Hochberg, Chairman and President, Export-Import Bank of the United States.

Photo of Fred Hochberg and two unidentified men in hard hats, safety vests and ties.

American Competitiveness and the Global Race for Export Success

This week, I had the opportunity to participate in Foreign Policy’s inaugural summit on American competitiveness, an event that brought together leaders from the worlds of business, security, and government to discuss a range of issues related to America’s capacity to thrive in today’s challenging global climate.  David Rothkopf and the Foreign Policy team put together a vibrant and informative event, which included conversations with Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, Financial Services Roundtable CEO and former Governor Tim Pawlenty, and a host of economists, CEOs, and global policy experts.

In a speech closing the event, I took the opportunity to focus on one critical element of American competitiveness—one that is very much at risk today: the global race for export success.

EXIM Bank, which equips American businesses with the financing necessary to compete for export sales when the private sector is unable or unwilling to do so, will see its Charter lapse next Wednesday for the first time in its 81-year history.  After 16 bipartisan reauthorizations, the support of 13 consecutive U.S. presidents, and a sterling record of service to the American people—including supporting 164,000 U.S. jobs last year while generating a $675 million surplus for taxpayers—it’s hard to believe that EXIM would be allowed to lapse.  That’s particularly true when clear majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have expressed support for EXIM’s reauthorization; in this day and age, that sort of consensus doesn’t happen very often.

For the last few months, I’ve been asked over and over again: what’s going to happen on July 1st if you aren’t reauthorized?  But frankly, I don’t think that’s the right question to be asking.  Because the damage caused by the debate over EXIM has already cost real Americans their jobs, and harmed long-term U.S. global leadership—and we’ll be feeling the consequences for years to come.

General Electric, one of the largest employers in America, does a lot of exporting without EXIM—but they count on the Bank to handle the deals that private financiers can’t.  A few weeks ago, we learned that GE is at risk for losing out on a major locomotive project in Angola.  This deal was expected to generate 1,800 U.S. jobs across 12 states, but because of the uncertainty surrounding EXIM, the deal is at risk—and China has agreed to step in with state-sponsored financing for their state-owned locomotive manufacturer.

That’s 1,800 American families that won’t be able to count on a dependable paycheck—1,800 jobs that should be going to folks in Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois that are instead going to end up in China, all because a vocal minority wants to put ideology ahead of American workers.

Of course, even though GE families are already being hurt by this, most of the pain will be reserved for small businesses that historically find it difficult to obtain export financing in the commercial sector.  On Monday, I went to Delaware to meet with one of them, a small, family-owned company called Acrow.  They manufacture modular steel bridge kits—a core product for developing countries that want to build a reliable infrastructure.

EXIM is guaranteeing a $73 million commercial loan that will empower Acrow to sell 144 bridges to Zambia.  This project will support 200 good-paying jobs at Acrow’s manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania and Delaware, as well as at their suppliers across ten states.  It was only possible because they had access to financing that let them compete and win against their Chinese and European rivals.  Without EXIM guaranteeing the loan, no private bank was ready to finance a sale like this to Zambia.  That’s just not something that commercial banks do anymore—that’s the exact gap that EXIM was designed to fill.

Buyers in Zambia and around the world want to buy American—they want to buy the best.  But if EXIM isn’t around, they won’t always have that option.  U.S. businesses deserve better than to be cut off from critical tools that empower them to succeed in global markets.  After all, they’re already facing an alarmingly competitive world out there.

In my time as Chairman of EXIM, I’ve met a whole lot of entrepreneurs and workers across America—and I’ve never come across one who wanted a handout.  All they want is a level playing field.

When U.S. exporters go into global markets armed with financing from EXIM, they have an opportunity to compete on their merits.  When they do, they usually win.  And that means more jobs for U.S. workers, and a more competitive American economy.  We owe it to them to break down barriers to export success—not to tie their hands.

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