A top government promoter of exports reminds American companies that 95% of the world’s consumers are outside the U.S.
Judy Reinke sells America when she travels abroad and sells the rest of the world when she travels around the United States.
As deputy director general of the U.S. Commercial Service, Reinke acts as the chief operating officer for the branch of the International Trade and Investment Administration that’s most responsible for getting American companies into overseas markets.
She has done tours in Europe and India, working in embassies alongside diplomats to help advance the interests of American firms.
Now based in Washington, she travels the country with a slightly different mission: making sure that American companies know what opportunities await them in other countries and how the U.S. government can help.
During a visit to Minneapolis last week, in which the agency and counterparts from Canada promoted exports and investment in that country, she took a few moments to discuss America’s place in the global market.
Q: The deadline for President Obama’s five-year goal to double America’s exports is coming up. What’s our assessment of where we are?
A: The challenge was raised in his State of the Union of 2010. The end of this year, 2014, would be five years. We’ve done really well. We’ve really begun to change the exporting DNA of American business. That’s a huge change. The fundamental goal was to get American companies to think about exporting as a way to grow their bottom line. A lot of what our export promotion offices across the U.S. do is outreach to businesses to let them know they can export and let them know what resources are available to help. We have overseas connections in 74 countries. We work with the Small Business Administration and ExIm Bank and broaden the federal-level interagency support for exporting. We raise the level of some of the trade missions we take, including to the secretarial level. The challenge was to double the level of exports. Whether we hit that number by the end of the year, economists are going to debate. Even if we don’t hit that number, I think we will have seen a huge increase in the level of exporting. And since the end of 2009, 1.6 million jobs have been added that are based on exporting.
Q: There’s a relatively new phenomenon of sharply increasing trade between developing nations, including India, where you’ve been, that is helping their growth. What kind of opportunities and challenges does that bring to U.S. companies?
A: India is one, certainly. Another example is China becoming very active in Africa. That is an open opportunity that, right now, a lot of American companies haven’t embraced. China has gone in and [has] been building infrastructure and creating trade relationships. And we should be doing the same. We have a small network at the Commerce Department, working with the State Department, where officers in [African] embassies where we don’t have a Commerce representative will be supported. We are trying to reach into Africa to make sure we have support for American companies when they do go there.
Q: Why do we see some countries moving into some of these new markets faster than Americans are?
A: Among the reasons may be that we have such a huge market in the U.S. We haven’t prioritized exports as a national way of doing business. But more importantly, we just have had such a big, growing market all along. A company in Minnesota, or anywhere domestically, has not just their own state and local market but they have 49 other states to sell to. But once you can learn how to cross borders, once you can sell across a state border, you can very quickly learn how to sell across an international border. I just came from this session about selling to Canada, which is one of the easiest places for an American firm to do business. Thanks to NAFTA, some of the simplification of trade requirements, a small or medium-sized company can easily export to Canada. And once it gets those basics down, it can begin to try more-challenging markets. They often haven’t thought about them or realized they can do it. They don’t know we have services that can help them.
Q: Do American companies face a risk by just sticking to the U.S. market or to easy markets like Canada?
A: Once companies are more global, they begin to realize they have to fight to stay competitive. If they are staying in the United States, they are losing ground against their international competitors. [Foreign] companies that are selling globally, they’ll soon be selling in the U.S. if they haven’t started. If our companies haven’t seen what their global customers need and aren’t refining their product cycles and aren’t keeping up, eventually they will lose competitiveness. Outside the U.S. is 95 percent of the world’s population. Now, not all of those are customers for every company, but a lot of them could be. It’s hard to get Americans to think as globally as I would like. I’m passionate about the idea that American companies should travel more. Go to an international trade show and see what the competition is like. I like to tell companies to go to Germany. That’s a country with big trade shows and, when you see a trade show there that has companies from India and Pakistan, that’s when an American company can realize what the opportunity is.
Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241