Trade Spotlight: There’s Nothing Standard About Standards

October 25, 2021

Written by ITA’s Office of Standards & Intellectual Property

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

Image of four different orange cords used to connect electronics.

You may not realize it, but standards are a part of your everyday life. Like atoms and molecules, standards are often invisible to the naked eye but play a fundamental role in nearly everything we do. From wall outlets in homes to fuel nozzles on cars and pipe fittings for USB ports, standards help keep the world connected. In recognition of World Standards Week, ITA’s Office of Standards & Intellectual Property (OSIP) offers a peek behind the curtain into the world of standards and why they matter for global trade.

What are Standards and how are they connected to trade?

At its simplest, a standard is a document that lays out a common understanding of the characteristics for a particular product, process, or service. Standards are a way for different groups – designers, suppliers, regulators, and consumers, among others – to have confidence that they’re all talking about the same thing. Many standards define terminology while others outline testing and measurement techniques. For technologies like WiFi or 5G, tech companies may standardize interfaces so products from various companies can all work together and anywhere in the world.

Standards are voluntary, with companies choosing to adopt them when it is valuable. For example, while no law requires that a laptop be able to access WiFi, most manufacturers build to that standard to meet the expectations of their customers. In some cases, governments may adopt a standard into their technical regulations, effectively making it mandatory. ITA has found that 92% of U.S. exports are affected by standards-related technical regulations, making them the most common non-tariff trade barrier reported by companies.

Don’t Forget Your Adapter

Standards may differ from country to country. If you’ve ever needed to purchase an adapter for your devices when traveling, you’ve experienced this difference firsthand. To minimize global trade fragmentation, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade commits signatories to use relevant international standards whenever possible. ITA’s Office of Standards & Intellectual Property works with countries and industry consortia around the world to promote the adoption of international standards in markets to ensure that U.S. exporters don’t face standards-related barriers to trade.

Celebrating World Standards Week

While many people rarely see standards development in action, the United States boasts a vibrant standards development community, which we celebrate every October (October 14 marks World Standards Day). Unlike many countries, the U.S. private sector leads standards development in the United States through a “bottom-up” system coordinated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a private non-profit organization. ANSI and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) co-chair an annual event known as “World Standards Week,” bringing together standards stakeholders to mark the occasion. This year’s event will to be held virtually on October 25-28, with a second in-person celebration in May 2022. This year will focus on the role of standards in fulfilling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are closely aligned with the Biden Administrations strategic goals.

We hope you too join us in celebrating standards! Contact OSIP for more information about standards and learn more about World Standards celebrations and events happening this week here.


Spotlight on Trade: Gabriela Zelaya, Global Education Team Leader

September 28, 2021

Gabriela Zelaya leads ITA’s Global Education Team

This post coincides with the Department of Commerce’s spotlight on National Hispanic Heritage Month.

As leader of the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) Global Education Team, I work passionately to develop programs and strategies to promote the United States as the premier study destination for the world and grow educational service exports. I work alongside ITA trade experts and a host of partners – state governments, industry associations, universities, and others – to design and deliver innovative programs and resources to enable U.S. educational institutions and companies to succeed in global markets.

As a Hispanic woman, and first-generation college graduate, I’ve come a long way in my professional career. While growing up in Southern California, I struggled with cultural stereotypes brought on from being a Hispanic woman from a blue-collar, immigrant family. I knew education was the key to eliminating bias in the world; as such, I dedicated myself to learning and achieving in school. Education is the catalyst that has empowered me and opened doors to numerous opportunities.  

After graduating from two of the most ethnically diverse research universities in the nation, University of California, Riverside (a Hispanic-Serving Institution), and the University of Miami in Florida, with a Political Science degree and master’s in International Studies, these experiences led me to an internship with ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service at the U.S. embassy in Madrid, Spain. While there, I utilized my Spanish speaking skills to assist U.S. companies to discuss partnership agreements with distributors.

After interning in Spain, I returned to California and landed my first job at ITA’s field office in Sacramento in 2004. Since then, I have constantly been amazed and inspired by the ethnic diversity of colleagues around me and their commitment to collaboration, creativity, innovation, and equity. Whether working on minority serving export programs, economic empowerment activities for ethnically diverse communities, these colleagues have consistently demonstrated the utmost professionalism and respect for the clients they serve.

From a young age, my passion for supporting the Hispanic community’s economic empowerment has stemmed largely from my own experience growing up and seeing the dearth of Hispanic men and women leaders in America. I know that I am making an impact through my work to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions and businesses succeed globally. As we address the COVID-19 pandemic’s social and economic repercussions – which disproportionately affect minorities and Hispanic businesses – we should keep in mind the positive impact that global business opportunities can have on recovery and resilience.

International markets represent untapped potential for Hispanic-owned businesses. On average, businesses that export earn higher revenues, pay higher wages and are less likely to go out of business.  Going global can help minority businesses build more successful, resilient businesses while supporting themselves, their families, their workers, and their communities. ITA is working in earnest to support minority-owned business and Minority Serving Institutions to export globally.  

For those in the Hispanic community interested in expanding your business through international sales, please take advantage of ITA’s many low-cost services for U.S. small- and medium-size exporters. Go to Trade.gov and check out the growing number of free market intelligence reports from virtually every major market worldwide where the Commercial Service has offices. We also have resources for U.S. education organizations looking for education-specific programs, services or research. I also encourage businesses to find your local U.S. office of the Commercial Service and give our experts there a call to explore your options and brainstorm about best prospects.

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to honor our Hispanic forerunners, but it also is an occasion to take stock of our current moment and create a more equitable future for Hispanics as individuals as economic actors. It is my great privilege to contribute to ITA’s mission and Hispanic economic empowerment efforts.

Gabriela Zelaya (center) and her International Trade Administration colleagues pose for a photo at the 2018 NAFSA: Association of International educators conference in Los Angeles, California.

U.S. Minority-Owned Enterprises a Centerpiece in the U.S. Economic Recovery

September 22, 2021

Nyamusi Igambi directs our U.S. Commercial Service’s Southern Network.

It goes without saying: the past 18 months have been truly transformative for the way we live and work. As an agency that tracks trade, we have observed COVID-19’s disruptions along every link in the business supply chain. We’ve also seen another important trend emerge from consumers writ large: increased support for small and medium minority-owned enterprises, including African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic-American, and Native American owned businesses, as well as small and medium size firms run by women, veterans, and the LGBTQI+ community.

As the nation embarks on a historic economic recovery, the International Trade Administration (ITA) is uniquely positioned to help bolster the success of underserved communities by helping these businesses expand their global reach through exports. It’s a fact that 95% of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, which means the potential is high for U.S. companies to increase sales and create jobs by tapping into international markets. But the reality is that businesses in underserved communities often lack awareness of export opportunities or access to financing or trade resources. However, many minority-owned businesses actually have a competitive advantage due to cultural ties and oftentimes multilingual skills.

To help these businesses succeed at home and overseas, ITA recently launched the Global Diversity Export Initiative to better connect businesses with ITA trade experts in more than 100 U.S. cities and 75 international markets. This year alone, we have organized or participated in nearly 200 trade events to reach these important audiences, including the National Minority Enterprise Development (MED) Week Conference this week. This annual event, hosted by the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), attracts thousands of American and international attendees. We have several educational panels for businesses to learn about the benefits of exporting, and they can request virtual meetings to work directly with an international trade specialist to assess their export readiness. 

If you run a minority-owned enterprise that has never exported or are looking to expand your exports to new markets, here are 3 easy steps to help you get started:

1) Measure Your Export Readiness: On our Trade.gov website, if you are a new, expanding, or experienced exporter, you can assess your company’s readiness to enter your first international market, expand into additional markets, or take on more challenging high-growth markets with an online questionnaire. The assessment takes you through a series of questions. For example, does your company have a product or service that has successfully sold in the domestic market? A product or service’s success in the domestic market is a good indicator of its potential for export success. Company executives and entrepreneurs should ask themselves if they are willing and able to dedicate time and resources to the process. Another question it asks is does your company have an export business plan with defined goals and strategies? Experienced exporters should consider if their company has sufficient production capacity that can be committed to the export market. ITA is here to assist with you as you pursue your export strategy. 

2) Conduct Market Research and Analysis: Next, ITA provides trade data, research, and analysis covering industries and markets around the world in our online Research Center. Reports are written by our trade and industry experts, as well as our commercial diplomats in U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. Our Country Commercial Guides provide a broad overview of market opportunities and best prospects. Companies can also receive real-time market insights or request customized market research. We assist companies by providing information about the international regulatory and customs environments. We also help companies by supporting their international marketing efforts. Check out the Market Diversification Tool to identify potential new export markets using your current trade patterns.

3) Connect with ITA: ITA staff are here to help companies navigate the export process. Every year, we offer numerous in-person and virtual events to help companies access global markets and international prospects through virtual webinars and matchmaking, as well as trade shows and trade missions. U.S. firms can also utilize our virtual matchmaking tools such as our International Partner Search, as well as conduct background checks on prospective partners thorough the International Company Profile. Learn more about a full suite of services online.

As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, we must promote equitable growth and eliminate social and economic structural barriers to opportunity wherever they exist. The global affinity for Made in USA products and services is second to none, and ITA remains absolutely committed to helping accelerate an inclusive economic recovery by helping minority-owned companies build back better through exports.


Connecting America’s Rural Communities to Global Trade

September 9, 2021

Heather Ranck leads the U.S. Commercial Service’s Rural Export Center

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

An image of a tractor in a field

Rural areas are known for open sky, forests, fields, and small towns. While thought of as being distant from foreign affairs, rural America is an export powerhouse of food, energy and a vast array of innovative products.

On September 1, an important discussion was held at Swanson Health Products in Fargo, North Dakota, a leading vitamin and mineral producer with a strong national and global footprint. Swanson hosted a Rural Roundtable with U.S. Senators John Hoeven (North Dakota) and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), during which five other rural businesses highlighted the value of in-depth customized market research.

This is where the International Trade Administration (ITA) and its export promotion arm, the U.S. Commercial Service, are helping. While rural American companies are located great distances from urban information centers and gateways, they now have access to the Rural Export Center, a new U.S. Commercial Service program established in May 2020 that allows rural American exporters to tap into data analytics and an extensive network of trade professionals.

The Rural Export Center’s signature service is RAISE – Rural America’s Intelligence Service for Exporters. The RAISE program is geared toward companies that seek to speed up their market selection and reduce the risk of poor decision-making on market selection, partner identification and entry strategies. The service leverages powerful databases, proven processes and the Commercial Service’s unparalleled global expertise. RAISE provides rural American exporters with customized market intelligence that will rank the opportunities in foreign markets, identify potential partners and provide actionable recommendations to help the exporters enter new markets faster and more cost effectively.

An image of Senator Hoeven (left), Heather Ranck (center), and Senator Klobuchar (right) seated. Senator Klobuchar is holding a microphone.
Rural Export Center Director Heather Ranck (center) moderates the discussion with Senator Hoeven (left) and Senator Klobuchar (right)

Swanson’s own example illustrates how the program works. As said by their CFO Jim Hamel, “Having knowledge is better than nodding and trusting. The research [provided by RAISE] was helpful to optimize relationships with our partners. Getting a comprehensive contact list was invaluable; and being able to share that with our new distributor allows us to hit the ground running.”

Another Roundtable participant, Mike Wagner, CEO of Sea Foam International (a manufacturer of fuel additives), shared his experience of using RAISE research. “Quality data is hard to obtain and very expensive. It is extremely time-consuming just figuring out what data sources exist, much less subscribing to them for the time needed to analyze a market. The RAISE program takes this process over and makes a tedious process quick and easy. I cannot over-emphasize the value of information-from local knowledge, data, resources and contacts, to name a few provided by the US Commercial Service.”

The two Senators also elaborated on the importance of rural exports in their states and the work of the Rural Export Center:

  • Senator Hoeven: “Exports are a vital part of North Dakota’s economy, with our state exporting $7 billion worth of goods in 2019, supporting an estimated 28,000 jobs. This comes as a result of our long-term efforts, both through the North Dakota Trade Office and now the Rural Export Center, to create opportunities for trade across industries, including agriculture, energy and manufacturing. With the Rural Export Center now in its second year of operation, today’s discussion is all about reviewing the impact of their good work and future opportunities to grow and diversify businesses throughout rural America.”
  • Senator Klobuchar: Today we heard from people doing businesses across Minnesota and North Dakota how important exporting is to their success. I worked with Senator Hoeven to create the Rural Exports Center to give our rural businesses the assistance they need to break into international export markets and compete in the 21st Century economy. In its first year, over 1,800 businesses have benefitted.”

Rural companies can learn more about the Rural Export Center and can submit requests for a free research consultation at https://www.trade.gov/rural-export-center.


Trade at the Local Level: 2020 Metropolitan Export Data Now Available

August 3, 2021

Ujjwall Uppuluri, Gulbin Yildirim, and Amanda Reynolds are International Economists in the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis

Figure 1 shows a map of the United States with 392 metropolitan statistical areas shown in color based on 2020 goods exports rankings measured in billions of USD. Houston, Texas was the largest metropolitan area exporter in 2020.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration.

Most Americans live in metropolitan areas, which consist of densely populated core regions and surrounding areas with ties to those cores. Statisticians define these as Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), and trade specialists study these localities because they can provide valuable insight into the performance of U.S. exports, industries and our economy. MSAs, after all, are critical players in the U.S. economy and trade, accounting for an average of 89 percent of U.S. exports over the last five years.

Despite global economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was still a big year for the 392 MSAs of the United States, which in total exported $1.3 trillion in goods. While exports declined $194 billion from 2019, a deeper study of the MSA data reveals pockets of resilience. In fact, almost one-quarter of reported MSAs experienced export growth, with Portland (OR) and Stockton (CA) leading the charge (with increases of $4.1 billion and $2.5 billion, respectively).

In this blog, we will walk you through MSA export highlights for 2020, including destination and sector detail.

Top Metropolitan Area Exporters

Figure 2 line graph shows the top 15 metropolitan area exporters in 2020 and their ranks in 2018 and 2019. Houston (TX), New York (NY), and Los Angeles (CA) maintained their ranks as the top three metropolitan area exporters from 2018 through 2020.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration

For 2020, the top five MSA exporters by value included Houston (TX), New York (NY), Los Angeles (CA), Chicago (IL), and Dallas (TX). International trade is not just for the major U.S. hubs, however; the top 15 exporting MSAs also include smaller areas like Corpus Christi (TX), and El Paso (TX), which benefit from their location on the U.S. border.

While the top four exporting MSAs maintained their ranks from 2019, other top MSAs experienced shifts. For example, Seattle (WA) fell in rank from the 5th to the 14thlargest MSA exporter, largely explained by a drop in transportation equipment exports. In contrast, New Orleans (LA), a U.S. agricultural products hub, bumped up three places in rank to the 6th-largest exporter. Corpus Christi (TX) and Portland (OR) also had notable increases in rank, driven by increases in oil and gas and computers and electronics, respectively.

Top Export Products

Figure 3 is a bar graph showing the top five metropolitan area exporters and their top five export products in 2020 measured in billions of USD. Chemicals and computers and electronics were among top exported goods for all give of MSAs shown.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. International Trade Administration

MSA data also provides us with insights into products, not just places. For example, chemicals and computers and electronics were among the top exported goods for all the top five MSA exporters by value in 2020. Four of the top five MSAs also counted transportation equipment among their top exports. Looking across all MSAs, top export growth sectors included agricultural products and primary metal products, sectors which are less prevalent among the top five MSAs.

Top Export Destinations

Studying MSAs also helps us understand country-level demand for our products. 2020’s top MSA export recipients included Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and the United Kingdom. In part because of their proximity to the U.S., Canada and Mexico are major markets for many metropolitan areas; one or both partners were among the top five export destinations for 45 of the 50 top metropolitan area exporters in 2020. China, the world’s most populous nation, was the top market in terms of export growth for many metropolitan areas in 2020 – New Orleans, Houston, and Portland all saw significant export increases to China, ranging from $2 to $4 billion.

Learn More

These are some of the highlights for the latest metropolitan area export data, but there is a lot more to see and learn about international trade at the local level. Be sure to visit ITA’s Metropolitan Export Series, a public database with interactive maps, data tools and factsheets showing U.S. goods exports by metropolitan area back to 2005. You will find information on top market destinations, top export sectors, exports by 3-digit ZIP code and county, and more!


Steel and Aluminum: Trade You Can Track

June 28, 2021

Eric Anderson is an International Trade Specialist in the Enforcement & Compliance Office of Communications

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

Circular saw cutting through a pipe throwing off sparks. Image from Unsplash.com

While you may not regularly think about it, there are few commodities more ubiquitous in our lives than steel and aluminum. From consumer electronics to aerospace technology, we are constantly surrounded by products that contain these two important metals. In fact, that device you are using right now is made of steel; and that can of carbonated water in your hand is made from aluminum. In 2020, the United States was the world’s fifth largest producer of crude steel and the ninth largest producer of primary aluminum. As such, the global steel and aluminum trade impacts our everyday lives and, as a result, has great national importance.

Even though we produce a lot of steel and aluminum domestically, the United States’ large domestic market almost always needs more than it can supply. To bridge the shortage, many different types of steel and aluminum are imported into the U.S. market. But where does all of this imported steel and aluminum come from? To get a closer look at how these commodities enter the U.S. market, ITA’s Enforcement and Compliance (E&C) business unit developed Steel and Aluminum Import Monitors, which are unique tools that provide greater transparency in trade flows and import trends for these iconic industries.

Aluminum Import Monitor

Members of the public are now able to see where imports of aluminum were produced thanks to our new interactive tool, the Aluminum Import Monitor (AIM). On June 28, 2021, importers of aluminum will be required to apply for a free license which will include information such as type of product, country of origin, and value or volume, etc. These license data will be integrated into the monitor, in aggregate, to provide the same early indicators to changing import trends as the Steel Import Monitor. Data obtained through the program will help identify surges in imports of specific aluminum products, including possible anomalies in the trade of aluminum products subject to import duties, which bolsters the effectiveness of existing trade remedy measures. The AIM also allows users to obtain and analyze data in the form of graphs, maps, and tables

Steel Import Monitor

The sister program to AIM, our Steel Import Monitor, for nearly two decades has provided the public with near real-time aggregate data on steel mill imports into the United States. This monitoring tool assists E&C and the steel industry, for example, in identifying import trends and changes as well as potential circumvention and evasion. With these numbers, steel industry watchers are able to pick up on any early indicators of import trends, and make important business decisions. Earlier this year, E&C enhanced the original version of this dashboard by using additional data collected through the steel licenses to provide more product level detail to platform users.

Steel Melt and Pour Dashboard

This innovative, first-of-its-kind tool displays data from Commerce’s new ‘melt and pour’ dashboard, which has recently been unveiled and available to the public. The supply chain view in the dashboard shows where U.S. imported steel was first produced and where it was further processed into the imported steel mill product. Just like how “farm to table” is all about knowing where food comes from, the melt and pour dashboard enables users to get a glimpse at the supply chain of steel.

These monitoring tools provide E&C with more data about the supply chain of finished steel imports into the United States. This data aids E&C’s ability to monitor for anomalies in trade patterns, which can help E&C and the domestic manufacturers to identify potential transshipment and circumvention of U.S. antidumping and countervailing duty orders, which are an important remedy that protect American businesses and workers from unfairly traded foreign products.


Spotlight on Pride Month: Jeff Dutton, Commercial Service Officer

June 17, 2021

Jeff Dutton is a Commercial Officer based in Shanghai, China

This post coincides with the Department of Commerce’s spotlight on LGBT Pride Month.

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

ITA Commercial Service Officer Jeff Dutton speaks to industry leaders at the Carrier Air Conditioning Museum in China.

I work at ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service office in Shanghai, China, supervising a team of 7 local staff and 2 fellow commercial officers. We offer a variety of export promotion services to small and medium-sized U.S. companies. Whether it’s a consumer product such as air fresheners or nutritional supplements, or a service provider helping industrial parks in China use less energy and lower carbon emissions, my colleagues and I help connect U.S. companies with potential agents, distributors, and customers in China.

As a college student in my home state of Arkansas, I studied abroad in Spain, Mexico, and Japan. I decided to pursue my interest in international trade and economics with a Master’s degree in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Public Affairs at Syracuse University in New York. A Maxwell School alumna who had landed at ITA recommended that I apply for several ITA jobs. I didn’t get the first job that I interviewed for, but I kept trying and in 1998 was offered an International Trade Specialist position. What excites me about export promotion and commercial diplomacy is that it brings people together for mutually beneficial economic exchange while at the same time helping communities across America by creating good-paying jobs. I also enjoy meeting business owners who succeeded in expanding their operations and hiring more American workers as a result of trade agreements ITA helped negotiate or a contract signed with a foreign distributor that my teammates introduced them to.

International trade is inherently cross-cultural and being a successful practitioner of it requires sensitivity to other cultures, flexibility in the way you communicate, and a readiness to expect the unexpected. I think that many members of the LGBTQ+ community have honed these skills for a variety of reasons, but partially because many of us felt not quite at home in the communities where we grew up, even if we did have supportive and loving families (as I had, even in rural Arkansas). So there may be a disproportionately higher number of LGBTQ+ people in organizations like the State Department, ITA, and the Foreign Agricultural Service. On the customer side, there are many LGBTQ+ owned and -led businesses in the United States who are our clients, particularly in the travel and leisure, design, and other creative industries. As U.S. exports become more service-oriented, knowledge-based and creative, it will be important to engage this dynamic segment of the American economy.

For those in the LGBTQ+ community interested in expanding your business through international sales, please take advantage of ITA’s many low-cost services for U.S. small- and medium-size exporters. Go to Trade.gov and check out the growing number of free market intelligence reports from virtually every major market worldwide where the Commercial Service has offices. Also on trade.gov, find your local U.S. office of the Commercial Service and give our expert colleagues near you a call to explore your options and brainstorm about best prospects.


Exploring the Global Economic Recovery from COVID-19

June 15, 2021

Brooke Tenison is an International Economist in the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade Policy and Analysis; and Susan Xu is an International Economist in the Office of Trade and Economic Policy

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

A heatmap of global GDP growth rates for 2021. Relatively few countries are projected to continue to suffer negative growth rates over the next year. Many countries, especially across Africa and the Middle East, are predicted to see modest growth up to 3 percent. Advanced economies are projected to see mainly between 3 and 5 percent, while a very select few, including China, are projected to show more than 8% growth.
Data Source: IMF World Economic Outlook

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020, the world economy has weathered stop-go rhythms with shutdowns and reopenings, and markets of all shapes and sizes incurring tremendous losses. However, with the arrival of multiple effective vaccines, the world is looking toward recovery, both from an economic and public health perspective.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook released in April 2021, the global economy is projected to recover in 2021 and 2022 with anticipated GDP growth of 6% and 4.4% respectively. This growth, however, is not projected to be shared equally across countries or industries.

As trade economists, we’d like to offer perspectives about how the economic recovery is progressing.

Economic recovery so far is based on three main factors:

  • First and foremost is uneven access to vaccines—each economy’s growth hinges on vaccine availability and efficacy.
  • Second, domestic policies, which vary across countries, significantly impact the pace of economic recovery.
  • Third, the pace of recovery will also depend on country-specific structural factors, particularly reliance on high-contact sectors, such as tourism.

Furthermore, advanced economies and developing countries vary in their capacities to execute short- and long-term recovery strategies. This has a direct impact on their abilities to recover:

  • Advanced economies are projected to recover faster than emerging market and developing economies. Advanced economies had the fiscal space at the beginning of the crisis to implement effective stimulus measures, and many now can quickly roll out vaccines. This bloc tends to have larger work-from-home flexibility in conducting business as they generally have higher technology intensity in the production process and digital infrastructure.
  • Conversely, developing countries historically do not have as much room in their budgets to stimulate their economies, and have not been able to vaccinate their populations as quickly as advanced economies. Lacking access to vaccines effectively places a ceiling on growth, and some estimates project that developing economies will not have widespread access to vaccines for several years. Businesses in developing economies tend to depend more on face-to-face interactions and have fewer work-from-home jobs. In the meantime, developing economies will likely suffer from economic scarring, or long-term effects.

 Recoveries also vary largely by country according to the data in May. In particular:

  • The United States is projected to surpass pre-COVID levels of GDP in 2021 thanks to a rapid vaccine rollout and three rounds of stimulus checks that have kept American consumers spending through the pandemic.
  • The European Union (EU) is expected to recover to pre-COVID GDP levels a bit later, in mid-2022, due to a slow vaccine rollout and dependency on sectors that rely on human contact and interaction, such as tourism, cultural and creative industries. The EU has struggled with a third wave of COVID-19 infections and new lockdowns.
  • In contrast, the United Kingdom (UK) is expected to recover faster than the rest of Europe despite having longer lockdowns than many European countries, one of the deadliest outbreaks in 2020, and complications from Brexit. Its early procurement of vaccines and rapid vaccination drive to deliver the first shot to as many people as possible are key to a quicker recovery. Also important is the UK’s quick fiscal policy response; it was the first major economy to set plans to repair the damage to public finances caused by the pandemic.
  • China has surprised many with the speed of its recovery. The world’s second-largest economy grew 2.3% in 2020—the only major economy to avoid a contraction last year. This growth has continued in 2021 as a rebound in foreign demand has encouraged higher export growth. Partially hit by global chip shortages and international logistics jams, the economy’s strong pandemic bounce-back presents a two-speed track, with strong industrial output and export demand but lagging consumer spending.

Focus on Trade:

As of spring 2021, overall global trade volumes have numerically returned to pre-pandemic levels, but their composition looks different. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), global trade began recovering in the third quarter of 2020 and continued through the end of the year. Goods trade led the charge, recovering far more quickly than services. Goods like home office and communications equipment performed remarkably well compared to last year. Services trade, suffering from pandemic-related restrictions as well as consumer hesitation to travel, bottomed out in the second quarter of 2020 and is recovering sluggishly. Travel and tourism is understandably the most impacted services sector (check out NTTO’s dashboard for how this is progressing in the U.S.).

For a U.S. perspective on the recovery in trade, check out ITA’s monthly analysis of U.S. exports, imports, and other vital trade data.

From a global perspective, this crisis will continue to have echo-effects long after the virus is contained. With each passing day we have some more insight into how the virus has affected the global economy. While it is too early to understand the full picture, for now we can see simply that growth has a double ceiling: virus containment and vaccine access. Until the virus is controlled, we will continue on a bumpy, uneven road to recovery.


Investing in America: An Expanded SelectUSA Guide for Global Companies

May 25, 2021

Bill Burwell is the Acting Executive Director of the Department’s SelectUSA Program

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

When most people think about trade, they probably conjure images of containers shipped across oceans or trucked along highways. It’s true that America is a major exporter of goods and our ports are abuzz with activity around the clock. We’re also a major source of foreign direct investment—and while this trade term may not spark a visual, chances are high that you live in or near a community that benefits from it.

Simply put, foreign direct investment (FDI) is inbound investment into the United States from global companies. For the world, the United States is a great place to do business. We have the laws, the expertise, the work ethic and a world class workforce which businesses need to succeed. In fact, the U.S. has ranked #1 for nine years in a row as the top destination for foreign business investment. At the Department of Commerce, we have a program that specializes in attracting FDI—SelectUSA—and since its inception, it has facilitated more than $84 billion in inbound investment, creating and/or retaining over 106,000 U.S. jobs.

Some foreign investors may be experienced at entering multiple markets and extensively resourced to do so. Others may be exploring opening their first international location and in the early stages of information discovery. Either way, SelectUSA has a suite of services to help all types of investors, and offers counseling, introductions to U.S. economic development organizations, assistance navigating the U.S. federal regulatory system, and finally, products and events to help those investors better understand the U.S market.

One such example of the resources that SelectUSA has developed to assist potential investors is the SelectUSA Investor Guide, which was first launched in 2020.  Authored by competitively selected subject matter experts in their respective fields, the chapters in this guide are designed to give investors an overview of key topics essential to successful investing in the United States. The first edition of the guide covered topics such as an Overall Investment Checklist, Immigration, Business Structure, Taxes, Workforce and FDI Restrictions.

This year we proudly release 5 new additional chapters on the following topic areas:

Each of these chapters will inspire panel conversations at the upcoming 2021 SelectUSA Investment Summit, to be held virtually June 7-11, 2021, and which will be hosted by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The Investment Summit is designed for investors of all sizes – including established multinationals, small or medium-sized enterprises, and high-growth start-ups. The event will showcase investment opportunities from every (virtual) corner of the United States, as high-profile business and government leaders share insights on the latest business trends. Participants will find the practical tools, information, and connections they need to move investments forward.

We are thrilled to be a part of May’s World Trade Month celebrations, and even more excited to welcome FDI that helps to create export-supported jobs into the United States. If you are interested in learning more, information about the Investment Summit, including registration details, visit www.selectusasummit.us. It isn’t too late to sign up, and we hope to see you there!


Promoting Equitable Economic Growth in a Virtual Era

May 24, 2021

Nya Igambi is Regional Director for the U.S. Commercial Service’s Southern Network. The Commercial Service (CS) is the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

World Trade Month presents an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the small and medium-sized companies that drive U.S. exports and strengthen our economy. It’s also an opportunity to encourage firms, including minority-owned firms, to begin or expand their export efforts.  

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2019, U.S. exports of goods and services totaled $2.5 trillion and supported 10.7 million U.S. jobs. Of the 288,000 U.S. companies that exported goods in 2019, 97.4% were small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  

With 96% of the world’s consumers located outside of the U.S., exporting is a crucial growth strategy that business owners should consider – especially minority-owned firms. Minority-owned businesses represented approximately 18.3% (1 million) of all U.S. businesses in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and statistically are well-positioned to go global. According to the Minority Business Development Agency, they are twice as likely to export, three times as likely to already have international operations, and six times as likely to transact business in a language other than English. 

I have been passionate about increasing the number of minority and women exporters since I joined the U.S. Commercial Service 20 years ago as a global diversity outreach specialist. Now, in 2021, I am energized by the Commerce Department’s economic recovery plan for U.S. businesses and workers, which includes a focus on creating economic prosperity through exports, including minority exporters. The plan will be vital to improving our communities, particularly as they continue their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Minority-owned businesses often have cultural ties, language skills, and flexibility that can provide unique advantages when exporting. These firms can readily leverage foreign language capabilities, diaspora, and contacts in foreign markets to sell their products and services overseas. Minority-owned companies are creative, innovative and are represented in every industry sector in the United States. Technology and cross-border eCommerce enable firms to go global from inception. 

Houston-based startup, and U.S. Commercial Service client, IPP Global, is one example of a minority-owned firm that found success in overseas markets. With export counseling and assistance from CS Houston, company executives decided to pursue export opportunities as part of their initial business strategy.

“Our focus went global right away because we noticed there’s a major pull from the African continent,” said IPP Global’s president, Peter Agbro. “There’s a major pull for U.S. technology internationally, and it’s an easy entry because there’s a high demand for U.S. technology as compared to within the U.S. itself. Within the U.S. the technology is abundantly available, and the competition is steep, but outside of the U.S. …competition is less, and there is a high demand for it. We started to plan for export almost immediately.”  

Despite these many advantages, historically, minority-owned SMEs, and other SMEs in underserved communities, continue to face steep challenges growing their business and adding jobs through new export sales. There are many reasons why—SMEs in underserved communities often lack knowledge about export opportunities, lack access to financing, and face difficulties in identifying and vetting overseas customers. Additionally, they often struggle to connect with appropriate service providers and resources that could help to facilitate an export transaction.

While the pandemic has increased complications for exporters, it has also ushered in developments that will help organizations like the International Trade Administration and the U.S. Commercial Service to be more inclusive and connect with more potential clients, including minority-owned businesses, as the U.S. economy recovers from the pandemic. More specifically, using digital tools and virtual services, we can assist more clients and provide more resources to help businesses to recognize their competitive advantages and seize opportunities.

  • For example, this past year, we have advised companies to utilize the Single Company Promotion (SCP) as an out-of-the-box marketing option. The SCP provides a U.S. firm with a promotional event such as a technical presentation to help increase awareness of their existing/new products/services in a specific market. The U.S. Commercial Service organizes the event logistics; conducts a targeted direct mail or e-mail campaign; manages the promotional campaign and event-related logistics; and provides a post-event debriefing to discuss next steps.
  • Additionally, through its eCommerce Innovation Lab and trained trade professionals, the U.S. Commercial Service offers valuable tools to help companies grow their brand for global sales. The Website Globalization Review Gap Analysis is the first step and provides technical and strategic assessment of a company’s eCommerce sales channel efforts and is aimed at helping companies acquire more international consumers online. 

These are just a few examples of the digital tools and resources that the U.S. Commercial Service has developed to support a more equitable, export-led, economic recovery. If you are a U.S. business interested in developing an export strategy, reach out to your local U.S. Export Assistance Center today.