Turning the tables: U.S. manufacturers find plenty of help selling abroad

“Made in the USA” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “Sold in the USA.” Many U.S. manufacturers are finding a ready market for their products overseas, where certain big-name brands carry a cache because they’re American-made. But this welcome mat also extends to small- and medium-sized manufacturers in a number of home improvement and building product industries. Those who are leery of conducting business overseas should know there is plenty of free or inexpensive advice and support available from both the U.S. government and private trade groups promoting U.S. exports.

The International Trade Administration (ITA), a division of the Commerce Department, has representatives around the world looking for -- and vetting -- trading partners for U.S. companies. Back in Washington, D.C., products are divided up into categories or “teams.” Gary Stanley is the acting directing of the Office of Materials Industries, which has agents in charge of (among other things) adhesives and sealants, building materials, lumber, paintings and coatings, wood products and a green building initiative.

“U.S. products are competitive in the medium and high-end specialized segments of the market,” Stanley said. He’s talking about things like renewable energy, energy-efficient products, green building products and certified lumber.

Other popular exports, according to Stanley, are air conditioning and HVAC products, lumber and wood panels, structural metal, and windows and molding. With 16 different Free Trade Agreements in place with various nations, exporting can be a tariff-free exchange, Stanley explained. Central America is an especially good trading partner, he added.

The ITA does market intelligence reports for certain products, estimating the size of the competition. It will also conduct due diligence on possible trade partners, and advise on custom issues, shipping needs, and required export licensing and documents. 

The number of Free Trade Agreements -- especially in Latin America -- provide plenty of opportunity for regular trade missions. Last summer, an ITA specialist led a delegation of U.S. companies to Brazil, which is hosting the upcoming World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016). Brazil is hoping to showcase green infrastructure and architecture, which means opportunities for suppliers of energy-efficient lighting, smart systems for energy automation and management, water treatment, on-site renewable energy, and the use of recycled materials in design and construction.

U.S. companies looking for peer-to-peer assistance in learning the export ropes can go to the Worldwide DIY Council, an organization comprised primarily of American and Canadian manufacturers selling to overseas hardware markets. It’s a disparate group -- members range from young entrepreneurial firms to large, well known manufacturers -- which shares contacts and sponsors pavilions at international trade shows. 

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