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Small Business

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and the primary source of jobs for Americans. Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also account for the largest group of U.S. exporters and are a major user of imported goods.

USTR Small Business Initiative

In October 2009, USTR launched a new trade policy initiative to enable SMEs to grow their businesses and generate jobs through international trade. An agency-wide working group is ensuring that policymaking and enforcement better serve small- and medium-sized enterprises. USTR has also requested an investigation by the International Trade Commission on the role of small- and medium-sized exporters, to inform trade policy efforts.

Video: Ambassador Kirk Unveils New USTR Initiative on Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

Kirk Unveils New USTR Initiative on Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

USTR Announces Designation of Assistant United States Trade Representative for Small Business, Market Access, and Industrial Competitiveness

New Online Tool Highlights Tariff Benefits of Free Trade Agreements for American Small Business

In April 2011, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration and the Small Business Administration unveiled the online Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Tariff Tool. It can be accessed here. Small exporters now have an online resource that streamlines tariff information for 85 percent of goods going to 20 foreign markets with which the U.S. has negotiated trade agreements. This information has never before been available free of charge online in one searchable database. This tool makes it easier for small businesses to grow and prosper through exports. The website also contains an instructional video, a quick start guide, and a user’s manual.

USTR Activities Supporting SME Exporters

In January 2010, Ambassador Kirk hosted a conference on "Jobs on Main Street, Customers Around the World: A Positive Trade Agenda for US Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises."Ambassador Kirk spoke at the conference about how USTR is working to help small- and medium-sized businesses expand their exports in the global marketplace through a robust trade policy agenda.

U.S. Trade Representative Seeks to Boost Home-Grown Jobs, Global Exports for America’s Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

Deputy USTR Miriam Sapiro Addresses Issues For Small- And Medium-Sized Businesses At USTR-Led Conference

USTR Activities in Support of Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

USTR Continues Focusing on Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

Testimony of Jim Sanford, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Small Business, Market Access and Industrial Competitiveness, before the Senate Finance Committee (February 23, 2010)

Understanding SME Exporters’ Concerns and Priorities

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is conducting a series of three USTR-requested investigations to better understand how many of America's small- and medium-sized enterprises export goods and services now, their role in generating employment and economic activity in the U.S., their performance in trade compared to SMEs in other advanced economies, and the particular barriers in foreign markets to the expansion of their trade activity that USTR can address through trade policy.

USITC SME Reports:

Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Overview of Participation in U.S. Exports

Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: U.S. and EU Export Activities, and Barriers and Opportunities Experienced by U.S. Firms

U.S. Exports from Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Characteristics and Performance

Based on information obtained in these reports and on our ongoing engagement with small businesses, USTR will seek to set priorities for new trade agreements and for the implementation of existing trade agreements that are more responsive to the needs of these businesses and their workers, so that export promotion programs at other agencies have a better chance to succeed.

Ongoing USTR Assistance to Increase Small Businesses Exports

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is already assisting U.S. small businesses by removing barriers in the international trading system, with initiatives in the following areas:


High tariffs serve as added taxes on U.S. exports and imports, driving up the cost of small businesses' products and narrowing their potential markets.

The United States is seeking across-the-board tariff reductions in the multilateral World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha Development Agenda negotiations and the elimination of tariffs on all industrial and consumer goods through bilateral trade agreements that will benefit all U.S. businesses, large and small.

Customs Facilitation

For small businesses, paperwork and inconsistency in customs policies and regulations can be as prohibitive barriers to trade.

USTR is working in the WTO to strengthen the trade rules governing customs procedures to ensure the free flow of goods and services. USTR is continuing efforts to advance ongoing complementary initiatives involving existing agreements, such as the WTO Agreement on Customs Valuation.

USTR is also working with key WTO members to ensure that technical assistance in this area is provided to increase trade and investment for all members.


Unjustified or unreasonable licensing requirements, inspections or bans can be costly and time-consuming for small businesses and can keep U.S. small business from competing in foreign markets.

USTR is working to identify such barriers to trade, including differences in standards and licensing and inspection regimes, that hinder small business exporters' access to our trading partners' markets.

USTR is pursuing the elimination of such non-tariff barriers to trade in the WTO, multilateral fora, and bilateral agreements.

Intellectual Property Rights

USTR is working with our trading partners to ensure that intellectual property rights (IPRs), such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, are protected and enforced in foreign markets. USTR negotiators are keenly aware that the cost of acquiring IPRs is only worthwhile if they provide adequate protection for its holder's intellectual property.

Learn more about U.S. government resources for protecting and enforcing IPRs in foreign markets by visiting

E-Commerce and Services
For U.S. small businesses, e-commerce and the Internet can reduce transaction costs significantly, while increasing the pool of potential customers.

The United States is actively engaged in developing trade agreements that support the growth of e-commerce and the enforceability of electronic transactions.

Coordination and Outreach

As the President announced in his State of the Union address, agencies across the federal government are teaming up under the National Export Initiative to create jobs by expanding exports. USTR’s role in the National Export Initiative is reflective of our role as an agency – to tear down barriers to trade and open up new opportunities for American businesses to grow and create jobs through exports. In our efforts, USTR is partnering with the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Commerce Department, the Export-Import Bank, and others across the federal government to provide American businesses the resources and the opportunities they need to succeed. 

Working with Congress and other agencies across the government, our objective is to both increase the number of small- and medium-sized businesses that export and to expand the number of markets and customers served by the SMEs that do export.

In order to better understand the key challenges that are constraining U.S. SMEs from fulfilling their export potential, we continue to reach out widely to trade associations and individual companies, from the National Association of Manufacturers, to the National Small Business Association, and to individual SMEs. And we are consulting with economists inside and outside the government, and with our interagency partners, to identify and remove barriers limiting SME exports.

Industry Trade Advisory Committees

Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs) are integral links between industry and the United States government. Jointly administered by the Department of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative (USTR), ITACs provide a public-private forum to ensure that industry has a voice in formulating the trade policy of the United States.

ITAC 11, the Small and Minority Business ITAC, was chartered to incorporate priorities of small and minority businesses in formulating U.S. trade policy and to address issues of concern to small and minority businesses in trade negotiations.

Industry advisors serving on this and other ITACs provide valuable input as the Administration seeks to improve economic opportunities for America's businesses, workers, and consumers through trade.

U.S. policy-makers rely on these trade advisors to help identify trade barriers and to provide advice on key objectives and bargaining positions for multilateral, bilateral, and regional trade negotiations, as well as other trade-related policy matters.

ITAC 11 Website

ITAC 11 Members List

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Related links:

Small Business Administration

Small Business Trade Policy Agenda

SBA Small Business Guide to Exporting

Small Business Data Graphs

SMB Graph

SMB Graph

Opportunities for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses in the Americas Region

At the NAFTA Free Trade Commission (FTC), in Mexico on January 10, the NAFTA Ministers discussed ways to help SMEs take advantage of the export opportunities that the NAFTA provides. One of the main challenges that small- and medium-sized businesses face is access to information. To address this, the countries released “Opportunities for Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises in North America”, a publication designed to answer fundamental questions about starting to export.

Opportunities for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses in North America

At the CAFTA-DR Free Trade Commission (FTC) meeting in San Salvador on February 23, the CAFTA-DR partners discussed ways to help small businesses take better advantage of the job-creating export opportunities that the Agreement provides. The countries (the United States, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua) released a brochure entitled “Frequently Asked Questions About Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export in the CAFTA-DR Region”, a publication designed to answer basic questions for firms that are considering exporting for the first time and would like to find out more about the resources and export assistance that the CAFTA-DR governments provide. This brochure is available in both English and Spanish.

Frequently Asked Questions About Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export in the CAFTA-DR Region (English)

Frequently Asked Questions About Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export in the CAFTA-DR Region (Spanish)

The United States and Peru convened the second meeting of the Free Trade Commission (FTC) of the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) in Lima, Peru on July 14, 2011. At the meeting, officials received a report of the first meeting of the Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprise (SME) Working Group. The working group was established to enhance the ability of small businesses to capitalize on the benefits of the PTPA. The parties discussed the example of the U.S. Small Business Development Center (SBDC) model for helping small businesses to grow. The SME Working Group also released a brochure to raise awareness of opportunities for small businesses in both countries.

Frequently Asked Questions About Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export Under the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (English)

Frequently Asked Questions About Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export Under the United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (Spanish)

The United States and Chile convened a meeting on August 4, 2011 to discuss the important role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in generating economic growth, exports, and local jobs in our respective economies, and to identify ways that small businesses can take greater advantage of the benefits of increased trade under the Agreement. The Parties discussed the Small Business Development Center Model (SBDC) and released a brochure for SMEs entitled “Frequently Asked Questions about Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export under the U.S.-Chile FTA.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export under the U.S.-Chile FTA (English)

Frequently Asked Questions about Opportunities for Small Businesses to Export under the U.S.-Chile FTA (Spanish)