Update to Important Commerce Data Tool Helps Businesses Improve their Export Services and Stay Compliant

August 6, 2015

This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog.

Kimberly J.C. Becht is Deputy Director of Web Presence for the International Trade Administration

Staying compliant is an extremely important component to exporting. In 2010, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) accepted the Export Control Reform (ECR) Initiative mandate to create and publish the Consolidated Screening List (CSL). The CSL is a list of names or entities (individuals and organizations) with whom a U.S. company may not be allowed to do business with due to U.S. export regulations, sanctions, or other restrictions. BIS worked with the International Trade Administration (ITA) to create an ECR section on export.gov , where the business community could download the CSL as a text file. Every month, thousands of companies stay compliant by checking the CSL to determine if any of the parties in their overseas transactions are on it.

ITA's CSL application programming interface (API)

Screenshot of ITA’s CSL application programming interface (API)

In 2014, ITA “opened” the CSL data by publishing the CSL application programming interface (API). An API, or data feed, enables any web developer or software engineer to access the data in the CSL and integrate it into their own application. Major e-commerce sites, international shippers, and compliance software companies now use the CSL API every day to improve their services and help their customers stay compliant.

“Fuzzy Name Search” Improves Compliance for U.S. Companies

Based on requests from these companies, from ITA customers, and from export compliance experts, ITA has just released a new version of the CSL API that introduces “Fuzzy Name Search.” Fuzzy Name Search enables a company to search the CSL without knowing the exact spelling of an entity’s name.

This is particularly helpful when searching for names on the CSL that have been transliterated into English from non-Romance languages. Imagine doing business with individuals that have Cyrillic names:  it’s much easier to search the CSL for those names if you are not required to have the spelling exactly right.

Fuzzy Name Search works by including results that exactly match or nearly match the name that is searched and assigning a “score” to those results. Search results are then prioritized by score – the higher the score, the closer the match, so the higher the name appears in the search results. ITA uses Damerau–Levenshtein distance to calculate the score.

Find Entities More Easily With the Current CSL Tools

ITA has also updated the format of the two original text files containing the CSL that companies download from export.gov. If your company downloads these files on an ongoing basis, there are two changes to be aware of that accommodate how the information is now organized.

First, all of the information for an entity is contained in a single row, not multiple rows if the entity has several addresses or alternate names. Second, there are five new fields that provide information found on an entity’s ID such as Nationality and Place of Birth. Please visit the new CSL page on export.gov to get more detailed information.

Finally, to do a quick search for an entity, visit the new CSL search page on export.gov. Search any or all of the lists at once, turn fuzzy name search on or off, and restrict your searches to a particular set of countries.  It’s easy and it’s fast.

ITA continues to open data that helps U.S. companies that are starting to export or looking to expand into new overseas markets. Please provide your feedback on ways we can improve the many APIs we have available.


Get Real: A Discussion About e-Commerce

August 5, 2015

Anna Flaaten and Martin Herbst are Senior International Trade Specialists at the International Trade Administration’s Export Assistance Center in Phoenix.

Last week, ITA hosted a webinar featuring speakers Aparna Lahiri from eBay’s Global Shipping Team and Chris Ko, Owner and Managing Partner of Nationwide Surplus. The webinar is a result of a strategic partnership between ITA and eBay. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker formalized the agreement to use strategic resources to support U.S. exporters last year.

e-commerce strategies

Join us Oct 8-9 in Dallas to learn about e-commerce strategies

“International e-commerce is at the heart of what we do here at eBay” and “enabling cross-border trade is key to our success” said Lahiri during the webinar. About 190,000 entrepreneurs on eBay are selling to four continents and those that are export-oriented grew a whopping 91% versus businesses that focused only on the domestic market at 58%. Here are some interesting facts we learned during the webinar:

  • Selling internationally isn’t as complicated as you think – the emergence of the internet can simplify the process. Intermediary partners including online marketplaces, secure payment collection, shipping and customs support can make life easier for the entrepreneur.
  • Mobile is here to stay– buyers are purchasing goods more from their smart phones than the traditional PC. A seamless presence across various devices is critical, especially for consumers in emerging markets.This is especially true in China and India, and eBay is seeing similar trends in Latin America where mobile usage has tripled over the past year.
  • There is tremendous demand for just about everything in the global online marketplace. Buyers online are finding inventory more affordably from US sellers and/or looking for a variety of products that are not available to them locally.

Nationwide Surplus, a company that specializes in refurbishing computers and electronics, provided the small business perspective on marketing and selling products online. The company exports 21% of their products to over 100 countries. Ko started his business in a small warehouse with a desk and a computer. He now has 47 employees and is opening a second warehouse location.

Here are some of his insights:

  • Photos, photos, photos – include detailed photos online including 360 degree angles if possible. Nationwide Surplus even disassembles their products to capture interior component images.
  • Understand the international marketplace – purchase prices overseas can exceed those of the US market if the international consumer does not have local access to certain products. AND, there may be a demand for your products internationally even if there is no US consumer demand.
  • Handling returns – understand and plan for returns as they can be expensive depending on the duties, taxes, and shipping costs, etc… involved.
  • Correct paperwork is critical – accurately identifying harmonized tariff codes, for example.
  • Export assistance – “I didn’t realize how much export assistance is out there” stated Mr. Ko, and of particular value is the assistance provided by the US Department of Commerce.

To learn more about international e-commerce, network with other entrepreneurs and US Commercial diplomats, register for our upcoming Discover Global Markets: E-Commerce Strategies event taking place in Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX on October 8-9, 2015. Early bird discount ends August 14th.

The content will resonate with any company interested in e-commerce and social media as key drivers for international business development.


Brazil’s Energy Sectors Seek U.S. Exporters

July 30, 2015

Commercial Officer Tom Hanson just completed his three-year tour at the U.S. Commercial Service in São Paulo.

Brazil’s enormous offshore oil and gas finds, called the pre-salt fields, are located 200 miles off its southern coast and lie approximately 7,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. As these logistically and technologically challenging discoveries are explored, substantial business opportunities arise for U.S. suppliers of oil and gas equipment and services.

Although Brazil’s largest oil player, Petrobras, has yet to publish its revised five-year investment plan for the 2015-2019 period, industry sources estimate that it may range between US$130 billion to US$ 140 billion.  The exploration and production subsector should take 80% of the total planned investment. However, due to financial constraints brought about by investigations surrounding budget improprieties, Petrobras is likely to reduce its investment plan substantially, and may sell off some of its assets to offset its cash flow issues.

As Petrobras has not yet issued its 2015-2019 equipment and services demand forecast, based on its previous Business Plan as of February 2014, U.S. providers of supplies and operating systems for platforms and tankers and manufacturers of workboats and transport vessels would stand a great chance of winning new business. Despite the current crisis involving Petrobras and its main turnkey contractors, Petrobras’ expansion plans may represent one of the world’s largest business opportunities in the oil and gas sector until at least 2020. Commercial Service (CS) Brazil counsels U.S. exporters who are not already established in Brazil to partner with a local firm that is registered as a supplier to Petrobras – a prerequisite – rather than attempting to register directly.

Meanwhile, CS Brazil is engaged in the dynamic Renewable Energy sector. Brazil generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources – hydro, wind, solar, bio-mass, waste-to-energy – driven by both its immense renewable energy resource potential and rising energy demand. In fact, renewable energy capacity in Brazil is registering an average annual expansion of 12 percent, with special emphasis on wind energy, biomass from sugarcane, and small hydropower plants.

To date, most U.S. exports have been in the form of services and high value-added products that are not available domestically. However, exports to Brazil are hindered by significant import tariff barriers. Brazil imposes a 14 percent tariff on wind turbines, component parts for the wind industry, and hydropower turbines; and a 12 percent tariff on imported solar equipment, both PV and thermal.

CS Brazil can assist U.S. exporters navigate the complex path of market entry to find their niche markets and identify partners in these and other industry segments. Other, indirect costs of doing business in Brazil (referred to as “Custo Brasil) are often related to distribution, government procedures, employee benefits, environmental laws, and a complex tax structure.

Brazil has a large and diversified economy that offers U.S. companies many opportunities to partner and to export their goods and services, and U.S. exports are increasing rapidly. For more information about export opportunities in these energy sectors, please review the Country Commercial Guide and Top Market reports.


U.S. Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Business Owners Capitalize on Emerging Markets in Africa

July 30, 2015

Evi Fuelle is an intern in the International Trade Administration’s Trade Promotion and Coordinating Committee Office.

Earlier this week, several young innovators and entrepreneurs convened in Nairobi, Kenya, for one of the most exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the world: the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).

President Obama and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker traveled to Africa for the 2015 GES, the global business community’s equivalent of the “World Cup.”

During the sixth annual GES, the President addressed more than 1,200 attendees. The first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa, the 2015 GES shined a spotlight on the growing importance of the Continent as a center of business.

Secretary Pritzker led a delegation of roughly 200 U.S. investors to the Summit, including entrepreneurs at various points of their business development, and a diverse group of leaders and mentors from the business community.

As the Obama administration’s lead for entrepreneurship, Secretary Pritzker participated in a number of events during the GES, including the official pre-summit youth and women session, which brought together 150 entrepreneurs from around the world to provide them with an opportunity to discuss specific challenges, interact with industry experts, and pitch their business ideas to companies. Secretary Pritzker also hosted roundtables and meetings with select entrepreneurs, business leaders, and government officials.

Entrepreneurship is critical to generating economic growth, stimulating employment, and providing a basis for better economic and political stability. The U.S. government continues to lead numerous initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship and business in Africa, including the U.S. Commercial Service’s Trade Winds program, which will begin in South Africa on September 14, and will continue across the Continent through September 21.

The 2015 Trade Winds program offers U.S. companies the opportunity to explore eight markets in Sub-Saharan Africa. Featuring an Africa-focused business forum, the program consists of regional and industry specific conference sessions, as well as pre-arranged consultations with U.S. Senior Government Diplomats representing commercial markets from 19 African countries.

A Business Development Conference will be held from September 16-18 in Johannesburg as a feature of Trade Winds South Africa, giving businesses access to high visibility networking events with leading industry and government officials. The Business Development Conference will also provide businesses with the opportunity to conduct individual consultations with eight U.S. Commercial Service officers and 13 U.S. State Department posts from U.S. Embassies.

Other trade mission stops during Trade Winds Africa will give participants the opportunity to conduct customized business-to-business meetings with pre-screened firms in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Both the GES and Trade Winds South Africa will provide unparalleled opportunities for U.S. innovators, entrepreneurs and business owners to capitalize on emerging markets in Africa, and the chance to seek out new innovation partners, demonstrating the administration’s commitment to helping entrepreneurs around the world realize the benefits of ingenuity.


U.S. Health IT Companies Experience a Boost in Export Opportunities

July 29, 2015

By Matthew Hein, International Trade Specialist in the Office of Health Information Technology at the International Trade Administration.  

The Health Information Technology (Health IT) sector has become an important, dynamic sector reshaping the healthcare system in the United States.  As other countries increase investments in their healthcare systems, they are interested in investing in digital products and services, driven by computers and mobile phones, rather than through paper-based systems. As a result, U.S. Health IT companies have become prime candidates to offer the technologies and services needed to meet the requirements of the 96 percent of patients based outside of the United States. The International Trade Administration (ITA) is committed to providing U.S. Health IT exporters the data-driven market intelligence they need to succeed globally – whether finding a company’s next export market or comparing opportunities for first-time exporters.

This is the first Top Markets Report on the Health IT sector, providing exporters with analysis of future export opportunities, and possible barriers companies may encounter overseas. The Health IT Top Markets Report, part of the larger Top Markets Series, includes a methodology used to rank 80 potential export markets, eight country case studies, and several charts and graphs which show the market potential for the sector. The Health IT Top Market Report is forward looking, using data and analytics to project the strongest markets for future export growth; designed to help exporters compare opportunities across borders, identify opportunities for market expansion and/or market entry; and help exporters prepare effective strategies for entering or expanding their presence in foreign markets.

So what does the future hold for the sector? With approximately $7 trillion in healthcare expenditures worldwide, the opportunities available for the Health IT sector are vast. However, since the rules and regulations governing the sector may not be keeping up with the innovations being developed, companies would greatly benefit from counseling and guidance from ITA when exploring opportunities overseas, both from the Top Market Report, but also through the ITA network of resources located worldwide.

Here are some important findings in the report:

  1. Japan, Switzerland, Netherlands rank 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Export Market Rankings.
  2. Several smaller countries (such as Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore) profiled in the Report offer exciting export opportunities for Health IT companies. Health IT market access for exporters to Low- and Middle-Income Countries may be easier than that found in larger, more developed countries.
  3. A high rating of physician worker density/capita (as a proxy for healthcare workers) may result in a less intensive need for Health IT solutions in a country.
  4. Current data on mobile phone penetration rates offers an incomplete (and potentially inaccurate) picture of mobile health/telehealth potential in a country.
  5. A high prevalence of prepaid mobile phone plans in a country can be a significant encumbrance to widespread adoption of mobile health and telehealth solutions.
  6. A high level of healthcare expenditures (used as a proxy for Health IT expenditures) in a country did not necessarily result in a high ranking for a country using the Report’s methodology.

This post has only touched on some of the analysis you’ll find in the full report. I invite you to download the full report for our in-depth market analysis; and welcome feedback on our methodologies, viewpoints, and rankings.


Commercial Service Philippines Completes Renewable Fuels Association Trade Mission

July 28, 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.

Glacial Lakes Energy in B2B meeting

Glacial Lakes Energy in B2B meeting

As part of my summer 2015 Asia Team outreach, I went to Manila, where the U.S. Renewable Fuels Association, along with six U.S. ethanol companies, met as part of a U.S. Commercial Service-organized trade mission. The objective of the mission was for U.S companies to gain a deeper understanding of the ethanol market and business potential in the Philippines. The U.S. Embassy Commerce, Economic and Agriculture officers and local government agencies provided in-depth presentations on the renewable fuel environment, rules and regulations, and business opportunities.

As part of the trade mission, the Commercial Service Manila office arranged more than 50 B2B meetings between the U.S. delegates and local Philippine companies to discuss industry trends and potential opportunities for partnership.

On the evening of the first day, a reception was held gathering the mission delegates to mingle with local businesses, organizations, and industry practitioners.  Day two included a tour of the International Container Terminal Services at the Manila port, followed by an up-close and personal meeting with the President of the San Miguel Corporation, one of the Philippines’ most diversified conglomerates in beverages, food, packaging, fuel, oil, power, mining and infrastructure.

The six mission participants represented some of the U.S.’s leaders in ethanol production, namely: Buffalo Lake Advanced Biofuels; Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company; CHS, Inc.; Glacial Lakes Energy, LLC; Lakeview Energy LLC; and Renewable Products Marketing Group.

Commercial Attaché Totayo introduces U.S. companies at reception

Commercial Attaché Totayo introduces U.S. companies at reception

Commercial Attaché Aliza Totayo and the Commercial Service Manila staff worked diligently for several months to organize this important trade mission. As a result, the delegates expressed praise for the quality and value of the trade mission and referred to the excellent business potential and insights provided into the Philippine ethanol market.

Find out about upcoming trade missions.


Nearly 50 Countries Reach Historic Agreement to Eliminate Tariffs on Information and Communication Technologies

July 24, 2015

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

Today, representatives from 47 countries reached the first tariff-cutting agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 18 years. After negotiating one of the largest agreements in recent history, the countries—including the United States, the EU, and Japan, among others—agreed to expand the scope of products that receive duty-free treatment under the WTO Information Technology Agreement (ITA). As a result, numerous countries will eliminate tariffs on roughly 200 information and communication technology (ICT) products which have a value of more $1 trillion in global trade.

I am proud to say that the International Trade Administration has played a critical role since the negotiations began. Our industry and policy experts helped shape U.S. negotiating proposals, reviewed hundreds of product proposals from other countries, delved into the commercial relevance for each item, and ensured that products exported by small- and medium-sized companies were factored into the mix.

The ITA expansion will open overseas markets for Made-in-America ICT exports without the imposition of costly and burdensome tariffs, and will support thousands of well-paying U.S. manufacturing and technology jobs. Last year, exports of goods and services directly and indirectly supported an estimated 11.7 million U.S. jobs, of which 6.2 million jobs were supported by manufactured products exports. We want to see these numbers continue to grow—and this agreement can help do just that.

The agreement today is a step in the right direction. Addressing barriers and opening markets, as the ITA expansion agreement will, are the central forces that drive President Obama’s trade agenda, which will spur economic growth, create jobs, and level the playing field for American businesses and their workers. This is why the United States has been a staunch supporter and leader in the effort to expand the product coverage of the ITA.

The Information Technology Agreement will provide new opportunities for U.S. companies, and the International Trade Administration is committed to helping U.S. firms reap the benefits of the agreement. Now, U.S. ICT companies will be able to export their products duty-free to some of the largest markets in the world including Canada, Malaysia, and China. Medical equipment, GPS devices, video game consoles, computer software, and next generation semiconductors are among the high-tech products that will see tariff elimination. These and other highly competitive U.S. ICT products worth over $100 billion will no longer face high tariffs in key markets.

For example, U.S. exports of loudspeakers face tariffs of up to 30 percent. Next generation semiconductors face tariffs of up to 25 percent, medical devices such as MRIs and CT scanners face tariffs up to 8 percent, and printed matter/cards to download software and games face tariffs up to 10 percent. And, in some countries, certain U.S. ICT exports are effectively shut out of the market because of those high tariffs. Thanks to the new agreement, all these tariffs will be reduced to zero.

I look forward to making sure these negotiating wins translate into meaningful commercial realities for U.S. firms. With more than 100 U.S. export assistance centers across our nation and staff in the ITA expansion agreement countries, the International Trade Administration stands ready to help U.S. ICT companies take advantage of the new opportunities from the expansion of the WTO Information Technology Agreement.


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