American companies make excellent products; they really do. And many of these products are sold all over the world, but some never leave the country. There are several reasons things can or cannot be exported, including their price, overseas demand, technical competitiveness, and sometimes a company’s own willingness or reluctance to undertake the export process.

Are you curious about your export prospects? A definitive answer requires some careful research and planning, but fortunately, there are some online tools to help you quickly check your product’s export potential. These tools examine global trade data and show if what you make can be exported, where to, and in what quantity.

[tweetthis display_mode=”box”]Curious about #export prospects? Extensive research and planning is a must, but here are tools to help:[/tweetthis]

To understand how these databases work, you first need to know where the data came from. Back in 1988, the World Customs Organization devised a six-digit numbering system for virtually every type of product called the Harmonize System, or HS for short. It brought much-needed order to the chaotic worldwide tariff system (tariffs are basically taxes imposed when goods enter a country). The HS system allows companies to use their code to look up overseas tariff rates for their products. Here’s one place you can look up your HS code number: HS Code keyword lookup –

Nowadays, virtually all customs entry data is collected and put into a computer database. Then, several organizations, including the UN, collect and sort it and put it online so that you can study the international trade patterns for your product. Here are a couple of the websites:

So what can these two websites tell you? To begin with, which countries are importing the type of product you make, the value of these imports, where they are coming from, and even the trend for this business over recent years.

The trend is especially telling, since it shows if the American-made products are gaining or losing market share, and thus are or are not competitive. Trademap can also generate all sorts of analytical maps and charts to help you easily spot trends and opportunities.

The UGA Small Business Development Center’s webinar site explains more about how to use these and other websites and understand the data they provide. And if you are a Georgia company, the UGA SBDC can also assist you.

(Source: Bob Erwin, Consultant, International Trade Center)