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Ask the Ambassador: Small Business Exports to Southeast Asia

We recently received a question about small business exports to Southeast Asia. Michael from South Carolina asks:

"Ambassador Kirk, I have recently started a company importing coffee from Laos. My partner, an American, currently lives in the Philippines. He has an extensive network of companies, and businessperson's in the country, as well as southwestern China. We are looking for ways to leverage these contacts. I recently saw you on CNBC, talking about small business exports. I would love to do my part in helping to facilitate your work in exporting to Southeast Asia.

The issue that I am having is two-fold:

1) I am a young entrepreneur (27 years old), generationally my business understanding of exports is very limited. My knowledge base is only in importing.

2) The only things I can come up with for exports are: capital equipment, and agriculture products. Very high capital requirements and these industries are not small business oriented.

My two questions are:

1) How do I go about leverage my contacts in Southeast Asia for small businesses in America. What beginning steps should I take?

2) What industries have a competitive advantage over Southeast Asia?"

Ambassador Kirk responds:


I appreciate your question and am delighted to learn that my CNBC remarks have led you to consider potential export opportunities. At USTR we are working to create trade opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses, so small firms like yours can export, grow and create new, high-paying jobs. My advice is that you contact our commercial officers in our Embassies in the Philippines and Laos, who will be able to provide more detailed information on specific opportunities for U.S. small businesses in those countries and ways to take advantage of your contacts. A number of small businesses have already made the leap to exports with the help of the Commercial Service, like the energy drink company from California currently negotiating deals in Southeast Asia.

The website for the U.S. Commercial Service for the Philippines has information on the services they offer like: arranging appointments with potential distributors, business partners and sales representatives, providing background checks on businesses, and conducting both broad and customized industry research. Their website also provides free access to their market research library as well as a list of sector analysis reports. You can also email their office in Manila for more specific questions. The U.S. Commercial Service for Thailand currently covers Laos and you can email their office in Bangkok for more information.

The Commerce Department's International Trade Administration also provides export assistance to U.S. companies and works to promote trade and investment across the globe. The U.S. Commercial Service runs Export Assistance Centers throughout the country staffed with experts who understand overseas markets and your local economy. Office locations can be found here. The Annual Report of the U.S. Commercial Service is also an important resource, which identifies sectors with the best prospects for U.S. companies. In addition, you may want to contact the Export-Import Bank, which assists in the financing of U.S. goods and services exports for companies both large and small.

I invite you to sign up for USTR's free weekly email newsletter, in order to stay apprised of U.S. trade policy initiatives in Asia and elsewhere, and USTR's efforts to open new markets for small businesses. Go to the homepage at, scroll to the bottom and click on eNewsletter.

Again, thank you for your question and I wish you the best of luck."

Thank you for continuing our dialogue on trade. Please keep submitting your questions and comments for the Ambassador.