A good place to start this quest for global insight is by researching what the federal government has in the way of trade data. Who knows? Maybe one of the many trade agencies has just that nugget of intelligence you’ve been looking for.
However, the challenge is that these agencies publish a lot of information, and with the Open Data Initiative at full tilt, more data becomes available every day. Here is a guide for small businesses looking to navigate the wealth of information that’s out there, to more effectively target overseas customers and grow their market.
What “open” trade data is and why it matters
Open data, in the context of the U.S. government, refers to information that all levels of government generate on a daily basis and is freely available in a “machine-readable” form. That means any software developer can build sites and mobile apps that automatically access open data at no cost. In fact, developers are encouraged to use and reuse the data however they see fit to enhance their online offerings. Think about all the weather apps that use weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to bring you your daily forecast.
This has tremendous implications. Any trade organization, chamber of commerce or company that facilitates international business can use open data to help its members export. A U.S. firm no longer has to search for data on the myriad of government sites — the data can be served directly to them on sites like TradeUp.
Many kinds of open trade data
Trade data actually includes many different kinds of information that can help you export and may be something discrete, such as export statistics or tariff rates. But data isn’t limited to just hard numbers. Many agencies sponsor events, such as conferences and webinars, in which you may want to participate. The data we’re concerned about in this case include the subject matter (what), the where, the when, and the how much.
You can think about trade leads in a similar manner: What is the business opportunity? Where is it? When is it occurring? How much is involved? And so on. Agencies that publish open data for trade events and trade leads are providing obvious blocks of data.
The “data” becomes broader still when you consider dynamic information such as market research or compliance regulations. In these cases, the data contains a large amount of prose. Nevertheless, it may also include relevant categories, such as a topic area, geographic region, industry or trade issue. As such, the “data” is comprised of the free-form prose and the more rigid categories the information falls under.
Don’t look for data; enable it to find you
Open data lets you find information about trade more easily because it’s available in more places. You are less likely to be in the dark about a particular aspect of trade, and you won’t have to guess where to find it — it will find you.
For example, if you have started working with a freight forwarder, a trade website could give you information not only on freight forwarding, but also on related information culled from open trade data — such as the basics on Incoterms, upcoming events about international logistics or videos about certificates of origin.
To take it one step further, imagine a mobile app where you fill out a profile that comprises information about your business, your export “maturity,” and the countries you’re interested in exporting to. The app then feeds you a constant stream of market research, contracting and partnership opportunities, and compliance updates related to your specific interests — all aggregated from different, authoritative government sources.
The “Big Reveal”
While the data is out there, it’s not always clear where to find it. The Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, charged with coordinating U.S. government export promotion and financing activities, is made up of 20 agencies that share a common goal – to help U.S. companies increase exports of their products and services. Because these agencies publish different types of trade data, it’s no fun slogging through site after site trying to find the right agency that has the specific piece of information you need.
Enter open data: as these agencies open their trade data, third-party sites and mobile apps republish the same information. The sites also aggregate and publish related data from other authoritative sources, such as trade associations.
Who’s got what
- International Trade Administration (ITA)
The ITA, which oversees the Department of Commerce’s (DOC) global operations, has six sets of trade data open to the public. You can go through their site to access this data, but you may find it easier to join an online trade community like WebPort Global. WebPort Global integrates ITA’s market research, trade events and trade news, along with other trade information.
- U.S. Census Bureau
The Census Bureau, also within the DOC, has eleven data sets available. Their statistics on U.S. exports and imports are particularly valuable, but it may be difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for among all of the numbers and lists. Mobile apps like ThinkGlobal’s Export Resources integrate some of the Census information with ITA’s data to bring users a customized experience.
- Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank
The Ex-Im Bank, the U.S. export credit agency, has several RSS feeds for important trade-related publications, such as its Economic Impact Notices AND Country Limitations Schedules. But if you’d like to have these tailored to your interests, you can view them for free on the BusinessUSA site under Explore Exporting, alongside related information from other local resources.
- U.S. Treasury Department
Treasury publishes multiple screening lists (names of individuals/organizations you might not be allowed to do business with) such as the Specially Designated Nationals. Unfortunately, only four of the nine lists that business owners must be aware of are published. Nevertheless, ITA has consolidated these four lists with additional lists from the DOC’s Bureau of Industry and the State Department to create one Consolidated Screening List.
This is where open data really shines. Companies that you work with to sell your products overseas — such as shipping, logistics or ecommerce companies — can easily integrate the Consolidated Screening List into their business process. They can automatically check the parties in your transaction against all of the lists. Obviously, you save time and money. But the big benefit is that you are less likely to unlawfully do business overseas all because three agencies opened up their data.
Now it’s your move
This is just a hint of what’s out there. But if you’re not finding the information you want, don’t hesitate to contact the agency directly. Remember, they are obligated to open up public data, and they absolutely need guidance from U.S. businesses to figure out what to open next. Help them help you succeed by making more trade data freely and easily available.
Stuart Ridgway helps organizations find ways to maximize value from the scores of data they generate, accumulate, and repatriate everyday. Read more at stuartridgway.com.
This piece also appears in Ideas Lab.