Trade Mission 101: Why Your Business Should Go

May 12, 2022

Gemal Brangman is the Director of the International Trade Administration’s Trade Events Task Force

In a given year, the U.S. government leads or facilitates around 14 trade missions throughout the world—bringing U.S. businesses (quite literally) to the table with foreign governments and companies potentially interested in their products and solutions. Trade isn’t simply about exports and imports: transactions can’t happen without trust, and trade missions are an important conduit to build and facilitate relationships between individuals. But what exactly does a trade mission entail, who is involved, and where do they happen? The short answer: It varies, so let us break it down for you.

An image of business people engaged in a conversation
Participants of a trade mission consult with ITA’s commercial diplomats to gain insights and identify market opportunities.

Put simply, a trade mission is an opportunity for a company to join a group of other companies for a series of tailored on-the-ground meetings in foreign markets with prospective clients, buyers, distributors, foreign officials, and other significant organizations, all with the support of the U.S. Government. Through the International Trade Administration’s (ITA)’s Industry and Analysis business unit and the U.S. Commercial Service, we research markets and industries around the world to inform U.S. businesses of all sizes of potential export opportunities. Based on this information, we then begin the large logistical undertaking of planning out opportunities for U.S. companies to travel alongside our experts so companies can see with their own eyes what our market intelligence data reveals and so that actors in foreign markets can see what U.S. companies have to offer.

Relationships are the backbone of trade, and trade missions are among the best ways to help build them. Just last month, we concluded the second in-person trade mission that ITA has led since the onset of the pandemic. The Cybersecurity Trade Mission to South America brought 10 U.S. companies to Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay to introduce them to key players in rapidly expanding cybersecurity markets in those countries. Through the work of U.S. Commercial Service staff at U.S. embassies in the four countries, over 240 business-to-business matchmaking meetings took place, and now several companies are pursuing new trade leads thanks to their participation in the mission.

For example, ISG of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a minority-owned cyber solutions services provider that participated in the mission. On the value of the experience, ISG Company President and CEO Tony Marshall said, “Our meetings were all pre-arranged and we only met with companies that understand what we did, and know what we have to offer. We even found connections with some of the other businesses that were traveling with us.”

The Cybersecurity Trade Mission to South America was not the first trade mission that ITA led, nor will it be the last. Over the next two months, we will also lead our first Minority-Business Focused Trade Mission, a second trade mission to South America led by Deputy Secretary Don Graves, and the CleanEDGE Trade Mission to Southeast Asia. But you don’t have to travel internationally to start your export journey. Our U.S. Commercial Service has more than 100 offices across the 50 states and locations in more than 75 international markets to help you get started or expand into new territory.

While these missions are designed for U.S. companies exploring global markets, there are also opportunities for international companies looking to invest and create jobs in the United States through the SelectUSA Investment Summit, to be held June 26-29 just outside of Washington, DC at the National Harbor in Maryland. The Investment Summit is the highest-profile event in the United States dedicated to promoting foreign direct investment into the United States.

As such, whether you’re a U.S. company looking to expand or an international company seeking U.S. suppliers for your supply chain, the U.S. Commercial Service at the International Trade Administration is ready to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your nearest U.S. Commercial Service office if you’d like to learn more!


World Intellectual Property Day: Spotlight on Young Entrepreneurs

April 26, 2022

Michelle Sara King is ITA’s Intellectual Property Team Lead and Jessica Pomper is an International Trade Specialist.

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On April 26, inventors, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs, and intellectual property (IP) experts alike come together to celebrate World Intellectual Property Day. Each year, the World Intellectual Property Organization pursues a unique theme to celebrate and increase education, awareness and outreach about intellectual property. This year’s theme is “IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future,” focusing on our youngest inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators.

Graphic that states "IP and Youth: Innovating for a Better Future: World Intellectual Property Day: April 26." The graphic includes a collage featuring a young man and woman surrounded by various items to represent objects or environments, such as wind turbines, water droplets, flowers, food, laptop, bicycle, small robot, house, and birds. Image courtesy of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

As youth utilize their curiosity to solve problems around them, they should also learn about intellectual property to protect their work. Intellectual property is an ever-changing field and here at ITA, our Office of Standards and Intellectual Property manages the STOPfakes program which provides resources for entrepreneurs of all ages. The STOPfakes team hears from inventors from all walks of life about what to do next with their invention. Our response is similar for adults and kids alike: it depends on what you want to do with your invention!

For example, if you want to bring your product to market, it’s time to think about intellectual property (IP) protection in every country the product may be shared or sold in. IP protection is integral to the success of an inventor because it helps protect the work and attributes it back to its creator. Securing IP rights can help protect inventions, just as it can also protect literary and artistic works, ideas, designs, sound recordings, software, symbols, names, and images. IP rights often differ by market and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) website offers more information about both the patent and trademark process including how to secure patent and trademark protection.

When IP is protected by law in the United States, with a patent, copyright, or trademark, creators can earn recognition and perhaps even financially benefit from using their invention/creation. Additionally, protecting IP by law means that it cannot be used to benefit unauthorized users.

The STOPfakes website and Twitter account are great places for all generations of inventors to start their research into IP. STOPfakes helps users find the resources they may need from ITA and other U.S. Government agencies. Additionally, you can explore copyright protection in the United States by visiting U.S. Copyright Office’s website.

When in doubt, we encourage innovators to come to STOPfakes, where we’re happy to point innovators of all ages in the right direction! Happy World Intellectual Property Day!


Advanced Manufacturing: What It Is and Why It’s Worth Investing In

April 5, 2022

By International Trade Specialists Diana Hajali, Office of Standards & Intellectual Property, and Jaron Bass and Amanda Lawrence, Office of Transportation and Machinery

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When you think of manufacturing, you may think of city block-sized warehouses or labor-intensive assembly lines. In reality, many of today’s factory floors in the U.S. are state of the art, high-tech spaces where workers employ all sorts of advanced technologies to build parts and products quickly and efficiently. In fact, our manufacturing industry is undergoing a digital revolution, fueled by advanced manufacturing systems.

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

Image of a worker’s hands using augmented reality on a control panel to monitor industrial robot arms welding.

Advanced manufacturing integrates machinery with digital and cloud-based technologies like artificial intelligence,  the internet of things, and augmented reality that allow workers to quickly adapt production to changing supply needs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the benefits of advanced manufacturing systems became exponentially more apparent, enabling manufacturers to change their processes to make new products and fill in supply chain gaps. For example: companies that normally produced alcohol began making hand sanitizer; car manufacturers started producing medical respirators; and some non-medical manufacturers were even able to design and create 3D-printed face masks.

Advanced manufacturing systems – also referred to as “Smart Manufacturing” – are essential in keeping manufacturing on the cutting edge. They not only support supply chain transparency and resiliency, but they also allow manufacturers to create products with a greener climate footprint. For instance, sensors can now collect and analyze all sorts of data to help producers use less energy and create less waste.

Helping U.S. Manufacturers Go Global

Innovation is key to the future of U.S. manufacturing and requires investing in the workforce and creating strategies to help American producers compete at home and abroad.  The International Trade Administration (ITA) has partnered with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) to do just that.

Through funding and support from ITA’s Market Development Cooperator Program (MCDP), NEMA researched four markets that that have untapped potential for U.S. exporters: Mexico, India, Turkey, and Indonesia. Together, our organizations are finding ways to connect U.S. producers of advanced manufacturing systems with vetted potential partners in these countries that will employ these newer, more efficient technologies. In February, NEMA hosted an Advanced Manufacturing Summit, where ITA experts in these four markets gave presentations to U.S. producers looking to expand to new markets or break into global operations.

The Summit also highlighted the importance of industry standards to a fair and competitive trading system. NEMA and ITA are working together to increase the use of advanced manufacturing standards to ensure that equipment and machinery work together and that data transfers safely and securely across devices, protecting both workers and machinery. To help guide this process, NEMA is developing a standards roadmap that will identify gaps in current standards and prioritize areas for standards adoption. Once finished, NEMA and ITA will promote this roadmap to trading partners and encourage them to adopt the same standards that are used in America. To learn more about how standards level the playing field for U.S. exporters, click here.

Coming This Fall: Advanced Manufacturing Trade Mission

ITA and NEMA are also organizing a multi-country business development mission to key markets in Asia, which includes Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, on October 17 – 21, 2022.  U.S. firms will be able to join U.S. government officials to meet directly with advanced manufacturing business partners in this region to explore potential opportunities for exporting products and services. Stops include cities like Jakarta, where in-person events will introduce U.S. firms to Indonesia’s advanced manufacturing initiatives, and Batam, where firms will tour the Batam Industrial Estate, an important industrial park. The next stop in Singapore will feature the Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific, one of the largest manufacturing trade shows in Asia. An optional stop in Japan will include business matchmaking events—including those through ITA’s Gold Key Service, which provides highly customized meetings with prospective buyers. To learn more about the mission, including application instructions for interested companies, click here.


A New Collaboration to Empower Women in Trade

March 14, 2022

Julie Anne Hennessy directs our U.S. Commercial Service office in Los Angeles (West) and Joan Morgan is a Senior International Trade Specialist for the Commercial Service’s U.S. Field.

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The United States is undergoing a historic economic recovery, and one that is transformative and should continue to drive the economy. Women and women-owned businesses in the United States are an enormous economic contributor. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, these firms in 2018 alone reported nearly $1.8 trillion in sales, shipments, receipts, or revenue and employed over 10.1 million workers with an annual payroll of $388.1 billion. For reasons like this, ITA has partnered with WEConnect International to help women entrepreneurs get into the business of exporting and tapping into markets that are ripe for new products and services.

WEConnect International is a global non-profit that identifies, educates, registers, and certifies women’s business enterprises that are at least 51 percent owned, managed, and controlled by one or more women, and then connects them with large member buyers. The WEConnect International WECommunity supports and promotes women-owned businesses based in over 130 countries, including local support and certification in almost 50 countries across the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The organization also helps to develop the capacity of large buyers to source more products and services from underutilized suppliers, including women-owned businesses globally.

Working together, ITA and WEConnect International are helping create greater opportunities for women-owned businesses by collaborating on international trade promotion activities in support of women’s economic empowerment; cooperating and coordinating on trade and business investment promotion activities; providing greater awareness of ITA’s events, resources and initiatives; and supporting the development of strong and quality business connections among women-owned and women-led U.S. companies.

For example, InSync Training, a WEConnect International certified woman-owned business headquartered in Portsmouth, NH, was recently connected with ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service New Hampshire office to explore new exporting opportunities. InSync has a 20-year history of providing virtual training facilitation and production services and has begun expanding into Europe and Asia. As part of its strategy to expand globally, InSync joined WeConnect International’s virtual conferences and matchmaking sessions. Through this newly established partnership, women-owned businesses like InSync will now be more aware of the resources of ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service to further support their export growth.

Trade shows, conferences, trade missions, and matchmaking are also ITA’s bread and butter, so naturally, this collaboration between WEConnect International and ITA makes sense to leverage the best of what each of our organizations has to offer women in business.

While this is just one example among many, partnerships like this expand the businesses that ITA is able to support, particularly as we seek to increase our engagement with women-owned and other historically underserved businesses. Learn more and get involved about ITA’s Women’s Global Trade Empowerment program, a resource for women entrepreneurs who wish to grow their business into new markets.


Cups and Conversations: How a Coffee Chat Built a Global Networking Powerhouse for Women in Trade

March 7, 2022

Camille Richardson is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa

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How did a chat over coffee between a Kenyan businesswoman and women business owners in the United States become an initiative helping hundreds of women-owned U.S. companies export abroad?

Headshot of Camille Richardson, ITA's Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa.
Camille Richardson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East and Africa

Last year, my team and I met with a Kenyan businesswoman who built a thriving cosmetics business using products imported from the United States. Listening to her speak, I realized that she had much to share with other women business owners, and knew that real stories, told by an entrepreneur herself, could be valuable to other women navigating similar challenges. As such, I worked with my team to invite several businesswomen across the United States to listen in on the conversation, and it was a great success. Little did we know, this informal virtual “coffee chat” would become the model that launched Women Empowered Leave Legacies through Trade and Investment, or WELLTI, for short. Since then, the WELLTI program has hosted coffee chats across nine countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Each event boasts over a hundred participants and the attendance of CEOs and executives.

One of the keys to business success is a strong network. WELLTI connects women from around the world with one another, inspiring U.S.-based women entrepreneurs to explore trade opportunities in the Middle East and Africa. Helping women grow resilient businesses is vitally important to creating equitable economic opportunity; globally, women are more likely to face disadvantages starting businesses and are less likely to be entrepreneurs or corporate leaders. Since companies that trade are more resilient, grow faster, and have better bottom lines, encouraging women to trade helps women succeed economically.

Today and tomorrow, Commerce will host our inaugural WELLTI Summit in partnership with OWIT, WeConnect International, and a host of bureaus within the Department.  This year’s Summit is particularly special as it is in conjunction with the Trade Winds 2022 Business Forum in Dubai, UAE and features ITA’s first woman Under Secretary, Marisa Lago, to help us kick off the festivities and celebrate International Women’s Day! Tune into the livestream and see how Commerce is putting resources to work for women and businesses in underserved communities. Programming includes hearing from the Commercial Law Development Program, the Business Council of International Understanding, and Women-In-Tech on topics ranging from commercial rights of a company to women’s role in the digital transformation, to the importance of technology in business.

Illustration of text that reads: "Women Empowered Leave Legacies Through Trade & Investment (WELLTI) @ Trade Winds Middle East and Africa, Dubai, UAE, March 2022. Learn more: #TradeWinds2022 #WELLTI [social media hashtags]. Background illustration is of the Dubai skyline.

We are confident that WELLTI will continue to serve our organization well as it expands its reach globally with WELLTI 2.0 spreading to new regions around the world and with a new focus: capacity building for businesswomen across the spectrum. Women business owners who participate in WELLTI programs are ready and eager to trade. ITA will deliver capacity building, facilitate access to networks and capital, and provide market intelligence to empower women to grow their businesses on a global scale. To learn about upcoming programs, visit https://www.trade.gov/womens-global-trade-empowerment.


Harnessing the Power of Global Markets to Empower Women: Webinars this Month to Help You Go Global

March 4, 2022

Abigail Lantz is an International Trade Specialist with ITA’s Office of Trade Promotion Coordination Committee (TPCC) Secretariat.

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Women in Global Business webinar series banner with image of several women posing together and U.S. Commercial Service and The W Marketplace logos

When women trade, women succeed economically. With 95 percent of world consumers and 80 percent of world purchasing power outside of the United States, international trade is an untapped resource for women-owned businesses. Women-owned companies that trade and export earn more, create more jobs, stay in business longer and are more resilient to financial shocks than those relying exclusively on domestic markets. Like closing the wage gap and breaking the glass ceiling, encouraging women business owners and entrepreneurs to trade across borders is key to achieving economic equality for women.

Women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs often face barriers to growth based on gender discrimination. Investors are less likely to bet on businesses owned by women, particularly those owned by women of color. Encouraging more women-owned businesses to trade has massive potential to grow the U.S. economy. More than 20 percent of employer businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, a figure critical to U.S. GDP. If women are to achieve economic parity, exporting is a proven strategy for success.

In honor of Women’s History Month, ITA’s U.S. Commercial Service and TheWMarketplace, a platform hosting women entrepreneurs and business owners to sell, network, and develop their businesses, are launching a four-part webinar series titled “Why Export? Stories from Women Who Went Global” on March 9th, 16th, 23rd and 30th. The webinars will feature informal conversations with successful women business owners in the U.S. about their experiences exporting and will train women on skills essential to exporting, from digital marketing and e-commerce to navigating overseas markets  Anyone can sign up for the free, virtual program.

When women-owned businesses export, it leads to better bottom lines and expanded economic growth at home. Supporting women business owners is even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dramatically impacted the ability of women to compete economically. Throughout this month, the U.S. Commercial Service and TheWMarketplace hope to empower women by giving them the tools they need to pursue global growth opportunities. Empowering women to transform their businesses and their economic futures through exporting is an important step towards closing the economic gender gap, ensuring that women excel in business and entrepreneurship.


Black History Month: How Commerce Assists Black Entrepreneurs and Innovators

February 25, 2022

Joint blog by the Minority Business Development Agency, the International Trade Administration, and the Bureau of Industry and Security

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Throughout the year, the Department of Commerce provides valuable assistance to inventors and minority-owned business enterprises across the United States, including small and medium-size firms that are important source of revenue and jobs in communities everywhere. Black History Month provides a unique opportunity to celebrate their success and learn about the national and international accomplishments of many Black innovators and entrepreneurs.

An illustration of text that reads "Commerce Celebrates Black History Month: Assisting Black Entrepreneurs and Innovators"

One such Black business owner seeing success today is Gregory Bush, Jr., President and CEO of KFA, Inc., a Chicago-area company that specializes in technology solutions for smart cities, capital construction, facilities management, and business continuity. In 2020, Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) honored KFA with its Minority Innovative Technology Firm of the Year Award for its work with the Chicago Transit Authority. As a result of its successes domestically, KFA was inspired to develop new technology product lines and further their services internationally. Through Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA), KFA has participated in U.S. trade missions to Dubai, Kenya and Ethiopia.

Greg Bush, Jr is not unlike his historical predecessor, Granville Woods. Born just before the Civil War, Granville Woods was a self-taught mechanical and electrical engineer who developed nearly 60 patents during his lifetime. One of his most famous patents, the multiplex telegraph, allowed trains to communicate with train stations by both voice and telegraph. It increased safety on the railways by allowing telegraphs to also be sent from trains on the move. Innovations in the tech sector enable businesses to streamline business practices and advance the ways people communicate across time and space. From Granville to Bush, the work done by these tech innovators in the Black community have paved the way in creating solutions to advance business practices.

If you lead or own a minority-owned business, the Commerce Department is here to provide you the resources and help you achieve success. We have several bureaus to help navigate you each step of the way.

  • The Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is the only federal agency solely dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises. Minority business enterprises can access a variety of technical assistance, including access to capital, contracts, and markets by contacting a local MBDA Business CenterMBDA Specialty Centers provide industry specific services including advanced manufacturing, business development services to provide opportunities to access global markets and a federal procurement center which specializes in connecting minority businesses to federal procurement officials and prime contractors. MBDA grants also funds projects like Enterprising Women of ColorInner City Innovation Hubs, and programs at minority serving institutions. Learn more about these projects and programs here.
  • Are you interested in expanding internationally? The International Trade Administration (ITA) offers market intelligence, business matching, and trade missions to help you explore new markets. Connect with a trade expert. ITA hosts various trade missions throughout the year that introduce U.S. companies to foreign markets. This year, ITA will host a trade mission geared towards U.S. minority-owned companies interested in expanding in Southwestern Europe (Italy, Portugal and Spain). Interested companies should consider applying for this executive-level Minority-Business Focused Trade Mission, held from May 15-21, 2022. Over the course of the week, participants will connect with U.S. government leaders and commercial teams working in these markets, network with U.S. companies doing business in this region, and take part in customized one-on-one business appointments with pre-screened prospective buyers, agents, distributors, and joint venture partners.
  • Are you interested in getting started with exporting? The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has resources to help you understand the rules and our counselors are standing by to answer questions. BIS also offers seminars that introduce the export control regulations for dual – use and less sensitive military and offers guidance on creating and maintaining export compliance programs. These services are invaluable to a business just getting started in exports.

The U.S. Department of Commerce mission is to promote job creation and economic growth. The resources available from MBDA, ITA, and BIS can be important tools to help minority and black-owned businesses thrive. In the coming year, we hope that these services will help even more Black-owned businesses like KFA start up, succeed, grow, and make a difference in their communities.


Black Inventors and Entrepreneurs – Past, Present, and Future

February 21, 2022

Joint blog by ITA and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This post originally appeared on the Department of Commerce blog as part of its National Black History Month series.

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Every February, we celebrate the achievements and history of African Americans. Black History Month reminds us that the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are critical to the success of the Department of Commerce’s mission. It is also an opportunity to spotlight some of the many inspiring stories and successes of Black inventors and Black-owned businesses. Bureaus across the Department of Commerce, including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the International Trade Administration (ITA), are committed to the domestic and international success of these innovators, entrepreneurs, and minority-owned businesses, which are so critical to American competitiveness and driving economic growth.

Intellectual property (IP) protection is a key asset to help entrepreneurs raise capital, commercialize their inventions, and provide even more innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. Here are just a few examples of Black inventors and entrepreneurs whose innovation and creativity, and the IP behind it, can be an inspiration to us all and make the world a better place.  

  • With unwavering perseverance, Percy Julian fought against segregation and other challenges to become a leading innovator in synthetic chemistry. His numerous inventions range from the fire retardant Aerofoam to treatments for glaucoma and rheumatoid arthritis. He was granted over 130 patents during his lifetime and is a celebrated innovator who broke down barriers for future scientists from underrepresented groups.
Headshot of Terry Davis, founder of Brilliant You Denim, standing against a brick wall.
Terry Davis of Brilliant You Denim (Courtesy of Terry Davis)
  • Brilliant You Denim is a North Carolina-based business founded by Terry Davis. She is the first Black female denim manufacturer in the U.S. The success of Davis’ business meant overcoming the monumental task of entering and competing in the multi-billion-dollar denim industry. She tackled this challenge by drawing on problem-solving skills developed during her career as an electrical engineer. One of her top priorities was to obtain a design patent for her jeans’ enhancement innovation. The company now holds 11 patents, with several more pending, and has trademarked its brand. She made it a point to set up the company’s manufacturing facilities in Greensboro, North Carolina, because she believed in the vision of rebuilding manufacturing in America. After growing the domestic business, Davis is now working with ITA’s U.S. Export Assistance Center in Raleigh to start exporting her products to Canada and Mexico.
  • After 13 seasons of playing in the NFL, Shawn Springs founded Windpact, a company based in Leesburg, Virginia, focused on impact protection. He set out with a mission “to be the most advanced impact protection company in the world, to make everyday lives safer” after experiencing the effects of concussions firsthand. That knowledge, combined with the insights gained from a component of an infant car seat, led him to build a company that uses patented Crash Cloud™ technology to protect athletes, soldiers, and automobile passengers from traumatic brain injuries.
  • Arlyne Simon is a patent-holding inventor and entrepreneur. As a young graduate student at the University of Michigan, she worked on a team that created a technology for a blood test that detects when cancer patients are rejecting a bone marrow transplant. After graduating and earning her Ph.D., she built a successful career as a biomedical engineer. Based on her desire to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, Simon was inspired to write a children’s book series featuring a young inventor and has also launched an online program to connect Black middle school girls to mentors in engineering.  

Commerce Resources to Help Your Business

From pro bono assistance programs to free training seminars, the USPTO provides resources to inventors and entrepreneurs to help them navigate the process of obtaining a patent or trademark. This month, don’t miss the Black Innovation and Entrepreneurship series on February 17 and February 24. The events will feature a number of special guests including Lanny Smoot, Disney Research Fellow and Imagineer recently featured in the USPTO’s Journeys of Innovation story, “As if by magic.”  

If you run a minority-owned enterprise that has never exported or are looking to expand your exports to new markets, ITA is here to help you get started. The online questionnaire can help you assess your company’s export readiness. The research center contains data, research, and analysis covering industries and markets around the world. Country commercial guides and a market diversification tool can help you identify potential new markets. ITA can help you tap into new markets and offers in-person and virtual events and services to help you in your export journey.  

Also, for U.S. minority-owned companies interested in expanding in Southwestern Europe (Italy, Portugal, and Spain), please consider applying for ITA’s executive-level Minority-Business Focused Trade Mission, May 15-21. Over the course of the week, participants will connect with U.S. government leaders and commercial teams working in these markets, network with U.S. companies doing business in this region, and take part in customized one-on-one business appointments with pre-screened prospective buyers, agents, distributors, and joint venture partners. 


U.S. Trade in 2021: U.S. Exporters on Road to Recovery

February 11, 2022

Dig Deeper with ITA’s Data Tools

Anne Flatness, Eak Gautam, Amanda Reynolds and Ian Saccomanno are International Economists in the Office of Trade and Economic Analysis

Still dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 was a challenging but hopeful year for U.S. trade. The publication this week of last year’s trade data is a good opportunity to reflect on the remarkable resilience of U.S. exporters.

Overall, exports of goods and services in 2021 recovered to pre-pandemic levels, while imports exceeded theirs. Thanks to data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis and U.S. Census Bureau, ITA can paint a larger story of how and where U.S. international trade recovered, and analyze what obstacles remain.

U.S. Trade in Goods and Services

Two charts are shown with trade data patterns from 2017 through 2021. The left chart shows U.S. goods exports, imports, and the trade balance for each year through 2021. U.S. goods imports were $2.9 trillion, U.S. goods exports were $1.8 trillion, and the goods trade deficit was $1.1 trillion in 2021. The right chart shows U.S. services exports, imports, and the trade balance for each year through 2021. U.S. services exports were $767 billion, U.S. services imports were $535 billion, and the trade surplus was $232 billion in 2021.
Figure 1: Total Goods and Services Exports, 2017-2021, ITA Annual Trade Infographic

Looking first at ITA’s annual trade infographic, we can see a divergence between goods and services trade. Goods trade includes physical products such as household products, cars, and food, while services trade includes economic activities such as financial services or transportation. Goods trade was strong across the board; exports and imports both reached new annual records, and all major export sectors were up from 2020. While services trade also increased, exports and imports of services continued to lag behind 2019 levels due to international travel. According to ITA’s National Travel and Tourism Office, both visitation to the United States and U.S. travel abroad increased from 2020 to 2021; however, travel has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.  

Two bar charts show U.S. export changes by sector from 2020 to 2021 for both goods and services. The left bar chart, Goods Export Changes, shows the following changes: Other Goods increased $11.8 billion, Automotive increased $15.7 billion, Food & Beverages increased $25.9 billion, Consumer Goods increased $47.3 billion, Capital Goods increased $59.3 billion, and Industrial Supplies increased $169.6 billion. The right bar chart, Services Export Changes, shows the following changes: Travel declined $4.5 billion, Maintenance & Repair declined $1.4 billion, Construction increased $0.6 billion, Insurance Services increased $1.2 billion, Government increased $1.5 billion, Telecom & Computer increased $2.0 billion, Personal & Cultural Services increased $2.8 billion, Charges for IP increased $6.9 billion, Transport increased $7.2 billion, Financial Services increased $17.7 billion, and Other Business Services increased $26.8 billion.
Figure 2: Export Changes by Sector, 2020-2021, ITA Annual Trade Infographic

Deeper Dive: U.S. Goods Trade by Product

Amidst supply and demand shake-ups from COVID-19, as well as other shocks like the Texas winter storms and Hurricane Ida, trade disruptions were common in 2021. These disruptions had significant, at times divergent, impacts on major U.S. trade sectors. For example, looking across broad industries, we see that Transportation Equipment, which was the top export category for more than a decade, was displaced by Chemicals and Computer and Electronic Products in 2021.

An examination of the sub-industry detail in TradeStats Express reveals reasons for this shakeup. Transportation Equipment exports were hampered by the continued weakness of the Aerospace industry, mostly in civilian airplanes. The contrasting increase in Chemicals is mainly the result of rising Pharmaceutical and Medicine exports related to the pandemic, while the increase in Computers reflects increased Semiconductor exports, which are in high demand globally. Oil and Gas exports were also up sharply, driven by rising energy prices in 2021.

Imports show a similar shakeup. At the broad industry level, Computer & Electronic Products, which displaced Transportation Equipment as the top sector in 2020, retained that position in 2021 due to continued high demand for electronics as people worked and stayed at home. Primary Metals, which broke into the top 5 in 2020 as gold imports spiked, was displaced by Miscellaneous Manufactures in 2021 after gold demand moderated. Miscellaneous Manufactures includes Medical Equipment & Supplies such as Surgical Medical Instruments and Surgical Appliances & Supplies. 

Bar chart showing the top 5 U.S. import industry categories in 2021: Computers ($465 billion), Transportation Equipment ($364 billion), Chemicals ($313 billion), Machinery ($208 billion), and Miscellaneous Manufactures ($166 billion).
Figure 3: Top 5 U.S. Import Products, Ranking Based on 2021 Imports, TradeStats Express

U.S. Goods Trade by Partner

U.S. goods trade with many partners recovered in 2021, meeting or exceeding pre-pandemic levels. On the export side, the U.S. set new records with 57 partners, including Mexico, China, South Korea and Germany. The top four U.S. goods export destinations remained unchanged in 2021, and all exceeded their 2019 export levels. Canada and Mexico continued to be the largest markets for the United States, followed by China and Japan. 

Below these top four partners, however, relative rankings among U.S. partners varied. In 2021, South Korea passed the United Kingdom and Germany to become the United States’ fifth largest goods export market. Increased exports of Oil and Gas and Mechanical Machinery were the main reasons for this increase. In contrast, a lagging recovery in exports of Transportation Equipment hampered trade with the UK and Germany.

Map of the top 10 destinations for U.S. exports in 2021, with export values ranging from $40 billion to $307 billion. The top U.S. export destinations, in descending order, are Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Brazil, and India.
Figure 4: Top 10 Export Destinations in 2021, TradeStats Express

On the import side, while the top five partners did not change, there was significant movement outside the top five. Vietnam had exceptionally strong growth in recent years; between 2018 and 2021 its ranking among U.S. import partners rose from 12th to 6th. In addition to Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia have increased in relative import ranking. In all cases, trade with these partners has increased in sectors where we have seen declining trade from China, such as Computer and Electronic Products, Apparel, and Furniture. This is indicative of a broader trend of trade diversification away from China since 2018, where companies have reported that concerns including trade policies and the rising cost of labor have encouraged movement to new countries.

New Tool to Explore Annual and YTD Trade Data

You don’t have to be an economist to explore data yourself. Check out ITA’s recently modernized TradeStats Express (TSE), an interactive data visualization tool that industry researchers, policy analysts, and others can use to track trends in international trade at the national, state, product, and partner levels. Also, check out our Trade Data and Analysis tools page to learn about our other trade data research platforms. And don’t forget to bookmark our monthly trade analysis page for the most recent data releases!


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.