Unlocking Export Opportunities for Women-Owned Businesses

It is important for women-owned businesses and firms to be able to export their products. Why? Studies have found that women-owned firms that export not only earn more, but also employ more people and are, on average, more productive than women-owned firms that do not. In addition, women-owned businesses that export their goods and services average $14.5 million in receipts, compared to just $117,036 for women-owned businesses that do not export.  Clearly, exporting has very real advantages.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I met with some women business owners to learn about their businesses, and encourage them to take advantage of the groundbreaking trade agreements being brokered by the Obama Administration by exporting their products and services abroad. I spoke with Erin Andrew, Director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership; Margot Dorfman, President of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Karen Bland, President of the Organization for Women in Trade; and Rachel Carson, President of Helicopter Tech Inc. We engaged in a candid conversation about the growing number of women-owned businesses in America, and how we can help them unlock the opportunities and benefits of exporting.

Under President Obama, U.S. exports have increased by nearly 50 percent and are growing nearly three times faster than the economy as a whole. Nearly 300,000 American companies export, 98 percent of which are small and medium size businesses, but exports from businesses owned by women are unfortunately under-represented. Approximately 30 percent of businesses are women-owned, but only 12 percent of businesses that export are owned by women. We must change that.

During our conversation, Karen Bland shared her five ‘know before you go’ tips for exporting, which included knowing your business, your market, your assets, your partners, and the rules. Rachel Carson shared her experience beginning to export her replacement aircraft parts, which she now exports to 23 countries around the world. In addition to raising her sales, Rachel noted that exporting allowed her to grow her staff and hire Americans in need of work to support her overseas activity. Hearing their stories and their triumphs reminded me why USTR and the Small Business Administration work so hard to help women-owned businesses engage in and benefit from trade.

In addition to partnering with SBA to encourage women-owned businesses to export, USTR has also utilized trade as a tool to promote women’s economic empowerment around the world. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently under negotiation with 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific includesfor the first time ever in a trade agreementa development chapter that contains an article on women and economic growth. The article explicitly calls on the countries that are party to the agreement to consider undertaking cooperative activities aimed at enhancing the ability of women, including workers and business-owners, to fully access and benefit from the opportunities created by the TPP.  

We know that most women-owned businesses are small and medium-sized (SMEs), which is why we are dedicated to reducing barriers that disproportionally impact SMEs. To inform our negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), in order to obtain broad input from SMEs, the U.S. International Trade Commission, USTR, SBA, and the Department of Commerce worked together to convene 28 small business roundtables in cities around the United States. We also hosted a hearing in Washington, D.C., to gather input directly from small businesses about barriers to exporting to the European Union (EU).

Additionally, the United States and the EU have convened an ongoing series of Small and Medium Enterprise Workshops to engage small businesses on both sides of the Atlantic on ways to enhance their participation in transatlantic trade and strengthen U.S.-EU cooperation on issues of interest to SMEs. Through T-TIP we can help SMEs, farmers, and workers unlock opportunity by finding new European customers and export markets.

USTR also participates in the Administration’s efforts to improve the ability of women to participate in the global trading system through fora such as the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Women in the Economy work in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, and our numerous Trade and Investment Framework Agreements with developing countries.

The OECD reports that creating greater economic opportunities for womenincluding connecting them to global marketswill help increase labor productivity, and higher levels of female employment will widen the base of taxpayers and contributors to social protection systems, which are increasingly coming under pressure due to population ageing. At the end of the day, we all win when we expand women’s economic participation.

For our part, USTR, the Small Business Administration, and the Department of Commerce have a number of tools available to help business owners start and expand their businesses, and to sell their products and services abroad. These resources can be found at www.export.gov; www.businessusa.gov; and www.sba.gov/content/explore-exporting.

We welcome your suggestions, and look forward to engaging with you to discuss our goal of building stronger export opportunities for women-owned firms and small businesses. Please email us at comment@ustr.eop.gov.

Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the U.S. Trade Representative.  

Michael Froman is the U.S. Trade Representative. 

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