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US trade policies fail to account for small businesses

Small businesses have long been the backbone of our economy in the U.S. We help drive economic prosperity on a national scale, while creating jobs and contributing to our community on a local level. In today’s technology-enabled economy, much of this prosperity is driven by e-commerce conducted by small- to medium-sized entrepreneurs who use technology to reach customers in new geographies. Unfortunately, small Internet businesses are missing out on a huge economic opportunity due to existing barriers to exporting, which is a lost economic opportunity for our country.

Collectively, we represent four e-commerce businesses that use online platforms like eBay to reach customers across the globe to grow our businesses domestically. That is why we recently sent a letter to President Obama and have reached out to our Members of Congress urging them to update “pre-Internet” trade policies that fail to account for the international opportunities available to small- and medium-sized enterprises today.

{mosads}Existing domestic and international customs rules create real obstacles for us when attempting to increase exports, while open markets that allow for resale of goods and cross border data flows are critical to our participation in global commerce. Countries must rethink how they integrate small businesses into global commerce, especially given the trade generated by small businesses like ours.

Currently, a very small proportion of traditional U.S. businesses export to foreign countries. Those that do export are usually bigger businesses, and even then they may only export to a handful of countries.  According to a study from eBay, over 90 percent of U.S. businesses using eBay marketplaces – including ours – are trading across borders, and on average these businesses sell to 30 countries. Comparatively, less than five percent of traditional businesses trade with customers outside the U.S., and on average they sell to fewer than three countries. These findings underscore the dire need to update our nation’s trade policies, making it easier for small Internet businesses to engage in the global economy. In a trading system that was created to cater to large companies, we face hurdles to make global trade accessible to small businesses – and that is what we need to improve.

We are deeply encouraged that the administration and Congressional leaders are working to advance trade legislation this year.  For entrepreneurs like us, online trading can be a positive game-changer for the success of our business.  The strengths inherent to e-commerce, mainly low barriers to entry, relatively quick returns for entrepreneurial ideas and little need for start-up capital, allow small businesses to sell products across the globe and drive economic growth.

In conclusion, we know firsthand how creative and nimble small businesses are when they face changes in the retail landscape. We must ensure small businesses can grow in their own backyards by creating connections across the globe. Buying products online is now as easy as a few clicks. We think that policymakers should make sure selling products around the world is just as simple.

Rast is owner of Great Sky Gifts in Kalispell, Montana; Babayov is owner of The Suit Depot in Oak Park, Michigan;  Carson is owner of Performance Equipment Inc. in Wenatchee, Washington; Terrill is Owner of NYC Fitness, Family and Finds in New York, New York.



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