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US small businesses worry about trade policy, too

US small businesses worry about trade policy, too

WASHINGTON: Small business owners trying to break into international markets say US trade policies and the strong dollar affect their ability to export, states a report released Tuesday.

The exchange rate “has been a big one,” said Jamie Deering, whose parents started Deering Banjo in 1975 in San Diego, California. Exports of the iconic American folk instrument account for 30 percent of the company’s business.

Many of the 16 small businesses featured in the report entitled “The New Faces of American Trade” also cite the strong US dollar as a factor weakening their potential to export, a complaint they share with larger manufacturers.

A strong dollar makes US products more expensive, and thus less competitive, in overseas markets.

Wei-Shin Lai, who with her husband Jason Wolfe invented SleepPhones — wearable headphones in a flexible headband — said the company had to pull out of the Boots convenience store chain in Britain because they could no longer compete due to the unfavourable exchange rate.

“It became untenable for us to make money,” she said at a forum on the report Tuesday. Her company is based in the struggling Rust Belt city of Erie, Pennsylvania.

The report, produced by the Global Innovation Forum, a non-profit connecting small businesses with policymakers and resources to join the global marketplace, examined how these companies use internet resources to expand their export presence.

Like bigger companies, small businesses favour open trade and consistent rules. And trade negotiations are key to keeping markets overseas open to American products.

“If we’re not at the table another voice will step in,” Lai said. “We need to be there,” she said of international trade negotiations.” Deering told the forum about changes in rules on exporting rosewood that have forced changes in production procedures, since the company uses rosewood inlay on their banjos.

LoveBook, which produces customized individual books as gifts for a loved ones, has resorted to partnering with companies overseas to print their product, an arrangement which in many cases is easier than dealing with export rules.

Co-founder Rob Patterson said 40 percent of sales from the Michigan-based company are exports, to 148 countries, and because of the delays involved in exports local sourcing makes sense.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2017

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