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Duquesne University

Small Business Development Center

108 Rockwell Hall

600 Forbes Ave

Pittsburgh, PA 15282-0103


Phone: (412) 396-6233

Fax: (412) 396-5884


Monday through Friday 8:30AM to 4:30 PM


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F.A.Q.: Export Questions

How do I begin an import/export business?

For assistance in beginning a business, utilize the nationwide network of business development centers established by the Small Business Administration to assist beginning entrepreneurs with the fundamentals. To locate the Small Business Development Center near you, call 1-800-U-ASK-SBA.

If you have already established a business and want to start exporting, refer to the sources of assistance described in the following pages and call 1-800-USA-TRADE with any further questions or for additional guidance.

What should I consider when making the decision to begin exporting?

There are a range of options for becoming involved in exporting, from filling orders for domestic buyers such as export trading companies who then export the product, to exporting directly yourself. For those who choose to dedicate the company resources required for exporting directly, a detailed and thorough strategy should be developed. Steps in developing such a strategy include:


Evaluating your product's export potential
Determining if you are really willing to make a commitment to international markets by evaluating whether your company is "export-ready"
Identifying key foreign markets for your products through market research
Evaluating distribution and promotional options and establish an overseas distribution network
Determining export prices, payment terms, methods and techniques
Familiarizing yourself with shipping methods and export documentation procedures and requirements



How can I get information on importing products into the United States?

The U.S. government does not maintain import promotion programs such as those available to U.S. exporters. However, information on importing is usually available from the foreign embassies (of the country from which importers would like to purchase) located here in the U.S. When calling, try to speak with a commercial officer or trade attache.

The U.S. government publishes Importing Into the United States (stock #048-002-00123-1), available from the Government Printing Office (GPO) for $6.50, which contains information on all the documentation and regulations required for importing into the U.S. Call the GPO at (202) 512-1800 to order over the phone. To obtain U.S. tariff rates for specific imported products, contact your local Customs Service office (see the National Export Directory). For NAFTA related import questions, contact the NAFTA Center in the U.S. Customs Service at (972) 574-4061.


Is my company export-ready?

Formulating a solid export strategy requires a critical examination of the capabilities and resources of one's company. Several additional questions must also be considered, such as which countries to target and what strategy to use in addressing import barriers, what steps to take and when, what will be the time frame and the cost in both time and money, and more.

A useful resource for new exporters is a publication called Breaking Into the Trade Game, a step-by-step guide to the exporting process from developing an export strategy and doing market research to identifying buyers and financing. It is available free from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Call 1-800-U-ASK-SBA to locate an SBA office near you or refer to the TIC's National Export Directory.

A Basic Guide to Exporting, prepared by the International Trade Administration, describes the mechanics of the export transaction as well as Department of Commerce and other federal agency export promotion services available to U.S. exporters. It is available for purchase from the Department of Commerce's National Technical Information Service at (703) 487-4650 ($16.50, stock number PB95-109799) or from the GPO at (202) 512-1800 or by fax (202) 512-2250 ($12.00, stock number 003-009-00604-0). An electronic version of A Basic Guide to Exporting is also available on the National Trade Data Bank [see description below]. "New-to-Export" seminars may be offered by state or private organizations in your area. Additional information may be obtained through Department of Commerce District Offices, state trade offices, and/or local private trade associations.

A comprehensive list of these organizations located in your state is available on the National Export Directory. Department of Commerce District Offices is also listed on the Commercial Service Internet. After acquiring the "basics," contact a TIC Trade Specialist at 1-800-USA-TRADE for more assistance. If exporting an agricultural commodity, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture's AgExport Connection at (202) 720-7103, the Trade Assistance and Promotion Office at (202) 720-7420 or on the Internet at


How do I obtain market research for a specific country and/or product?

The National Trade Data Bank (NTDB) is a highly valuable and comprehensive source of international trade and economic information. This computer database, compiled from 19 federal agencies, contains over 200,000 documents including basic export information (A Basic Guide to Exporting), industry-specific information (U.S. Global Trade Outlook), Country Commercial Guides, Market Research Reports and lists of potential agents and distributors overseas who are interested in buying U.S. products. Other items of interest are the complete texts of the National Export Strategy, the Environmental Technology Framework, speeches and other timely documents.

The NTDB can be:

purchased on CD-ROM (updated monthly) for $59 a month or $575 a year
accessed by subscription over the Internet (updated continuously) at the STAT-USA web site for $50 a quarter or $150 a year (free trial)
used for free at a federal depository library. Call 1-800-USA-TRADE to order a list of federal depository libraries from the fax retrieval system or to ask a trade specialist for the nearest location. The TIC's Export Programs guide also has information on accessing the NTDB.

The Country Commercial Guides (CCGs) series on the NTDB presents a comprehensive overview of a country's commercial environment through economic, political and market analyses. In addition, CCGs include best prospect export sectors, trade regulations, business travel information and an upcoming trade events schedule focusing on where the best markets are and how to approach them effectively. Most CCGs are available for free on the Department of State's site (under "Business Services"). They can be purchased in hard copy from the National Technical Information Service at (703) 487-4650. In addition, there are over 10,000 Market Research Reports on a wide range of industry areas in many different countries also available on the NTDB. New reports are added to the database every month.

If there is no Country Commercial Guide available for your country of interest, a best prospects list may be found in a document called Country Marketing Plans available under the Market Research Reports series on the NTDB. Export prospects and market information for various countries and regions also can be received through your fax machine from Department of Commerce regional fax retrieval systems. Exporters can access these systems on the 1-800-USA-TRADE number 24-hours a day and order documents using a regular telephone and following the voice instructions. Documents will be automatically sent to your fax machine in as little as 30 minutes, depending on call volume. Please refer to our Fax-on-Demand page for more information on the regional fax systems (as well as links to regional information).


Where can I obtain information on foreign markets and trade opportunities for fish or agricultural products?

The Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) works with fishing industry representatives and organizations to facilitate access to foreign markets. In cooperation with the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, NMFS assists exporters seeking to find and explore new export inspection services for fishery exports and issues U.S. Government Certifications.


Office of Trade and Industry Services,
Fisheries Promotion and Trade Matters, (301) 713-2379;
Inspection Services Division, (301) 713-2355.

Additional information on agricultural products is available on the NTDB. The Food Market Reports contain detailed analyses of various countries' agricultural markets. AgWorld Attache Reports contain market research on a wide-range of commodities in many different countries. Finally, the World Agriculture Reports provide a world market analysis of various agricultural commodities. These are all on disc two of the NTDB.

Foreign Agriculture Service. Your first point of contact for agricultural export advice and information on U.S. Department of Agriculture export assistance programs should be AgExport Connections at (202) 720-7103 or the Trade Assistance and Promotion Office at (202) 720-7420.

Information on foreign regulations/standards/certification requirements

As mentioned above, the Country Commercial Guides (CCGs) examine each country's trade regulations and investment practices, and present a comprehensive look at the commercial environment in various countries through economic, political and market analyses. The CCGs are available on the NTDB and on the State Department Home Page (under "Business Services"). Many of the country desk officers in the Department of Commerce also maintain information on foreign country regulations, standards, and certification systems and/or a contact list of organizations that can help you obtain that information.

A list of the Country Desk Officers is available on the TIC fax retrieval system (1-800-USA-TRAD(E), document number 7998) and some of the country and industry offices have information on standards on their web pages, accessible at the International Trade Administration.In addition, the Department of Commerce's National Center for Standards & Certification Information (NCSCI) provides information on U.S. and foreign conformity assessment procedures and standards for non-agricultural products.

The NCSCI also provides a translation service for foreign standards, for which there is a charge. NCSCI staff respond to requests for information by identifying relevant standards and/or regulations for your product. The requester is referred to the appropriate standards-developing organization or private sector organization for additional technical information and/or copies of the document. The NCSCI does not provide copies of the standards. For more information, contact NCSCI at (301) 975-4040 or visit their web site. You may also wish to try the International Standards Organization (ISO), or the American National Standards Institute.

Investment Practices for certain countries

Country Commercial Guides (CCGs) examine each country's trade regulations and investment practices, and present a comprehensive look at the commercial environment in various countries through economic, political and market analyses. See question #5 for information on obtaining the CCGs. Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices are available on the NTDB for those countries that do not have CCGs.

These reports describe in detail the trade and investment climate in each country. These Country Reports, along with CCGs and Country Background Notes, are available on the State Department home page (under "Business Services") and also at

Advertising products overseas and the U.S Federal Government

Commercial News USA: a catalog-magazine published 10 times a year to promote U.S. products and services in overseas markets. It is disseminated to business readers worldwide via U.S. embassies and consulates and international electronic bulletin boards, and selected portions are also reprinted in certain newsletters. Exporters can advertise U.S.-made products or services in Commercial News USA by calling ABP International at (212) 490-3999 or contacting your local Department of Commerce District Office.

Advertisement fees are based on the size of the listing. You can locate the nearest district office in the National Export Directory - the TIC's guide to federal, state and local trade offices throughout the United States. It is available on our web site at on the link to "International Trade Offices Nationwide"), or by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) and speaking to a TIC trade specialist. International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB): U.S. exporters can also advertise through the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), which is part of the United States Information Agency.

IBB is the umbrella organization which includes Voice of America (VOA), Worldnet TV, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Voice of America broadcasts almost 700 hours of programming to an estimated audience of 86 million each week. They can peg a company's ads to different language broadcasts about a particular subject, eg., science and technology, health and medicine, or target the ads to a specific region or country. For additional information, contact IBB at (202) 260-9052.

Locate leads and potential distributors in overseas markets

The Commerce Department offers many programs to assist exporters with trade leads. Trade Opportunities Program provides trade leads that arrive daily from U.S. embassies abroad. These leads are printed in the Journal of Commerce and other private sector newspapers. The Central & Eastern Europe Business Information Center (CEEBIC) and the Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (BISNIS) offer trade leads for their respective regions. Both offices are part of the U.S. Department of Commerce's USA Trade Center in Washington, DC. Visit their web sites: CEEBIC and BISNIS or call 1-800-USA-TRAD(E).

Country Directories of International Contacts provides lists, by country, of foreign directories of importers (showing name, address, telephone number, etc.), government agencies, trade associations and other organizations in countries where the Commercial Service maintains a presence. This list represents the primary sources of contact information that each U.S. Commercial Service post thought would be useful and does not represent an endorsement of any of the services listed. It is available on the National Trade Data Bank. (See question #5 for more information on the National Trade Data Bank.) Agent/Distributor Service is a customized search on behalf of U.S. companies seeking foreign representation. U.S. commercial officers abroad conduct the agent/distributor search based on requirements specified by the requesting firm.

The search for agents and distributors takes 60-90 days and costs $250 per market. You can place an order for this service through your local Export Assistance Center. You can locate the nearest district office in the National Export Directory - the TIC's guide to federal, state and local trade offices throughout the United States. It is available on our web site at (click on the link to "International Trade Offices Nationwide"), or by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) and speaking to a TIC trade specialist. Gold Key Service is custom-tailored for U.S. companies planning on visiting a foreign country, combining orientation briefings, market research, introductions to potential partners, interpreter service for meetings and assistance in developing a marketing strategy.

Contact your local Export Assistance Center for more information. International Buyer Program - Look for contacts at your industry's trade shows in the United States. U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service officers worldwide recruit qualified foreign buyers to attend the selected trade shows. These shows are extensively publicized through embassy and regional commercial newsletters, catalog-magazines, foreign trade associations, chambers of commerce, travel agents, government agencies, corporations, import agents, and equipment distributors in targeted markets. There are further descriptions of the Agent/Distributor Service, the Trade Opportunities Program, the Gold Key Service, the International Buyer Program, and other programs of the U.S. Commercial Service on the TIC web site under Export Programs Guide. Internet Guide to Trade Leads is a comprehensive source of internet sites that contain trade leads. The Internet Guide can be found on the TIC web page.

Harmonized Tariff System Classification (Schedule B) Number

The Harmonized System Classification is a standardized numerical method of classifying traded products. This ten digit identifying number is assigned to each product and used by customs officials around the world to determine the duties, taxes and regulations that apply to the product. The first six digits are harmonized throughout the world. The last four digits vary by country.

To obtain your Schedule B number, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's web site at The Schedule B is published on this web site, and you can classify your own product through a keyword search. If you need assistance in classifying your product, call the Bureau of the Census Foreign Trade Division at (301) 457- 1084. At the recorded voice prompt, choose option #2 for product classification assistance. Tariff and tax information is available from the Internet, private sources, and from the federal government.

For official rates, it is always best to contact the country's Customs authority. The Trade Information Center can provide unofficial tariff rates for non-agricultural products for certain countries as well as contact information for foreign Customs authorities. For more information, see the document entitled Foreign Tariff, Taxes and Customs Information, which contains information on the tariff services available from the federal government and from the private sector, tariff information for countries with a single tariff rate, how to use the Internet web sites, and how gifts are handled for several countries. This document is available on our web site at and clicking on "Foreign Tariff, Taxes, and Customs Information." It is also available on our fax retrieval system, by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E). Select option # 4 to enter into the fax retrieval system, and then # 2 for the "other" information, and order document number 1005. Please note: The U.S. Government cannot provide tariff rates for products shipped from one foreign country to another.

For tariff rates for importing into the United States, please contact U.S. Customs. To locate the Customs office near you, please refer to the National Export Directory - the TIC's guide to federal, state and local trade offices throughout the United States. It is available on our web site at (click on the link to "International Trade Offices Nationwide"), or by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) and speaking to a TIC trade specialist.


Is there a taridd/quota that applies to my prodcut in country X?

After you have obtained your Schedule B number from the U.S. Bureau of the Census (above), contact the appropriate U.S. Department of Commerce country desk officer or regional business center to obtain a tariff rate. For the telephone number, contact a trade specialist at the Trade Information Center at (800)-USA-TRAD(E) or order the list from the fax retrieval system (document number 7998).



How can I find export financing?

The first source for export financing is your regional and local bank. Contact your local bank to see what kind of programs they provide. A list of some local banks with international trade experience is available at the Trade Information Center (TIC) web site at the Financing Information section. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers loan guarantees through their Export Working Capital Program (EWCP) to help small businesses export. SBA's EWCP provides transaction-specific financing for loans of $833,333 or less.

Exporters may use this program for pre-export financing of labor and materials, financing receivables generated from these sales, and/or standby letters of credit used as performance bonds or payment guarantees to foreign buyers. To locate the SBA office in your area, call SBA headquarters at 1-800-827-5722, visit the SBA home pageor consult the National Export Directory - the TIC's guide to federal, state and local trade offices throughout the United States. It is available on our web site at (click on the link to "International Trade Offices Nationwide"), or by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) and speaking to a TIC trade specialist.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States offers a Working Capital Guarantee Program for working capital loans over $833,333. The program can be used to purchase raw material and finished products for export, pay for materials, labor and overhead to produce goods and/or provide services for export, and cover standby letters of credit serving as bid bonds, performance bonds or advance payment guarantees. The Ex-Im Bank also has an Export Credit Risk Program to protect against both the political and commercial risks of a foreign buyer defaulting on payment.

In addition, Ex-Im guarantees can be obtained on commercial loans to foreign buyers of U.S. goods or services to cover 100 percent of principal and interest against both political and commercial risks of nonpayment. In some cases, Ex-Im also offers direct loans to foreign buyers with competitive, fixed-rate financing for their purchases from the United States. For more information on Export-Import Bank programs, call their export finance hotline at (800) 565-3946. You may also visit their home page at


Do I need an export license to ship my product to a particular market? How do I get an export license?

Most goods do not need a license, and can be cleared by entering "NLR" (no license required) on the Shipper's Export Declaration. Licenses are generally required for high tech or strategic goods or goods shipped to certain countries where national security or foreign policy controls are important. The Department of Industry and Security (BIS) administers export licenses and regulations. The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) require a license for certain activities and items, e.g. commodities, software, and technology, if one of ten general prohibitions applies and the export or re-export is not eligible for a license exception. An exporter can call BIS to determine if he/she needs a license. BIS holds numerous seminars each year on export licensing requirements and documentation. BIS can be reached at (202) 482-4811 (Fax: 202-482-3617) on the East Coast, or (714) 660-0144 on the West Coast. The BIS web site also provides information on their regulations and procedures.


Are there lists of American Manufacturers and suppliers? U.S. importers and exporters?

The TIC does not have comprehensive lists such as these, but can direct callers to helpful resources. The U.S. Exporters' Yellow PagesTM, produced by Global Publishers in cooperation with the International Trade Administration's Office of Export Trading Company Affairs, is an annual directory of United States companies involved in international business. This free publication features over 20,000 U.S. export service providers, trading companies and manufacturers that have registered their export interests through the Department's Export Assistance Centers located in more than 100 cities nationwide.

The U.S. Exporters' Yellow PagesTM is available at online and in hard copy through local Department of Commerce District Office. Free registration is available online. Industry associations generally have directories of their members.
The following publications (available in many local libraries) contain lists of industry trade associations:

Encyclopedia of Associations
National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States Additional private publications which list U.S. manufacturers and suppliers include:

Register of American Manufacturers published by Thomas Register
call 212-695-0500;
Harris Manufacturing Directory published by Harris Publishing at 1-800-888-5900



Which programs on the National Trade Data Bank would a beginning exporter find most valuable?

For market research: Search Disk 1 by "Program" for Country Commercial Guides (also available on the State Department Home Page under "Business Services"), Market Research Reports (including Industry Subsector Analyses and International Market Insights), the CIA World Factbook (also available on the CIA Home Page), and Country Reports on Economic Policy and Trade Practices For statistics: Search Disk 1 by "Source" for USDOC, Bureau of the Census For international trade contacts: With Disk 2 in the drive, choose Option 5 from the main menu to access the Commercial Service International Contacts List.


Does Pennsylvania have their own "Mini-embassies" or "Foreign Offices"?

Yes, Pennsylvania has Foreign Offices in 17 countries and they help PA companies to enter those markets. The countries are the following; Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Israel, South Africa, China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, India, and Australia.


Is it true that all Pennsylvania companies receive free-of-charge services from all the PA Overseas Offices?

Yes, you can export your product or service by getting help from the PA Overseas Offices located in the 17 countries mentioned before. If you want to access those offices, please contact any of the Southwest Region Team Pennsylvania Export Network agencies. Duquesne University-SBDC will be glad to help you as part of the Team PA Export Network. Call 412-396-6233 for more information.