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Data Platforms and Marketplaces Automate Import-Export Trade

By Karen Lynch

Identifying suppliers, targeting markets, finding buyers and monitoring competitors is increasingly automated in the world of import-export trade. Online databases, social sourcing networks and business-to-business (B2B) marketplaces provide companies large and small with extensive information to drive decision-making and international trade.

Subscriptions to Import-Export Trade Data


Subscription-based services provide contact details to retailers, wholesalers and e-commerce businesses worldwide, promising traders filterable lead lists across geographies, as well as visibility into the import and export activities of partners, prospects, and competitors. 1


A Virgin Islands-based subscription service explains that, “Using shipping databases from customs agencies in the United States, Latin America, and India, … can help you find reliable new trading partners, monitor your competitors’ shipments, and keep an eye on your current suppliers and customers.”2 The company combines this customs data with records from various other public and private data sources.


For its part, U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that importer names on entry documents are confidential and that it does not publicly disclose them. However, a number of private-sector media services are permitted to collect manifest data on ships’ contents at every port of entry and they publish importers’ names from vessel manifest data, unless there has been a request for confidentiality.3 This is the type of information which is often packaged with other data by subscription services.


There are also industry-specific online services, including one that caters exclusively to the frozen sea food import-export community. Its website promises detailed information on every frozen waterborne shipment of seafood entering the United States, including commodity names, importer and exporter names and addresses, volume of shipment, origin country, U.S. port of entry, date of arrival and more.4


Some of the subscription services cover both sea and air shipments,5though government sources of air freight information are more restricted in most countries.


Online and Offline Services for International Trade


Some data providers combine online and offline services, including one in Victoria, Australia. On the one hand, the company offers data on trade volumes, values, prices, growth and decline, among other information. The company also says it employs methodologies to deduce trade from either end of transactions, given that there are countries where information is difficult to extract. On the other hand, it will organize and participate in appointments with potential trading partners in Australia, once they are identified using its data.6


Social Import-Export Sourcing


One data provider, with headquarters in Shanghai and San Diego, operates as a social network whose members develop online relationships, post member reviews and tap into shipment histories to find trade partners.7 It offers both free and paid services. Among the philosophies behind its combination of social networking and extensive trade data are the belief that shipment history is an important factual indicator of a supplier's capabilities. In addition, “We learned that when buyers look for optimal suppliers, 70 percent of cases were based on referral from previous buyers,” according to a company co-founder.8


B2B Marketplaces in International Trade


Some of the world’s biggest companies are approaching the import-export trade facilitation from other directions. Alibaba Group may be known primarily as an online retail marketplace, but its roots and some of its strongest growth are said to be in its international B2B marketplace. There, the company attributes much of the recent growth to increased use by importers and exporters of such services as requesting price quotations from multiple suppliers and verifying trading partners’ identities.9


In a related development, Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma has launched what he calls an electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) to help small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) “overcome complex regulations, processes and barriers that hinder their participation in global commerce.” The plan involves business-driven e-commerce hubs in different countries, together with government-established virtual free trade zones for SMEs.10The first such hub was created in early 2017 in Malaysia.11


Amazon is seen competing with Alibaba in this arena, with its Amazon Business B2B portal, which is also considered a rapidly growing segment of its business.12 Among its support for companies seeking suppliers is a “seller credential program,” allowing suppliers to post third-party certifications from such organizations as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).13


A Sydney, Australia, company called has in fact taken such third-party credentials as the basis for an “ISO certified marketplace” for buyers and suppliers. “As an ISO-certified company, you can upload information about your business, products and services, to demonstrate your level of compliance, operational capability and historical performance. The information presented allows the buyers in our network to assess your suitability for trade,” the company says.14


Companies can automate their time-consuming market research on import-export trade partners in a variety of ways today. Online databases, social sourcing networks and B2B marketplaces represent three opportunities.

Karen Lynch - The Author

The Author

Bill Camarda

Karen Lynch is a journalist who has covered global business, technology and policy in New York, Paris and Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. Karen also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners.


1. “How We Help Suppliers,” Panjiva;
2. “What is Import Genius,” Import Genius;
3. “Obtaining Information about Importers/Exporters by Commodity,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection;
4. “What You Get,” Foreign Trade Data;
5. “Active Buyers,” Cybex Exim Solutions Pvt. Ltd.;
6. “Export to or Import from Australia/Indonesia,” TradeData International;
7. Pricing, Tradesparq;
8. “Social Sourcing Platform Tradesparq Merges with Shuanghi IT,” technode;
9. “Alibaba Reports a 9 Percent Increase in International B2B Sales,” Digital Commerce 360;
10. “Electronic World Trade Platform,” Alibaba Group;
11. “Alibaba Announces Digital Free-Trade Initiative in Malaysia,” The Stack;
12. “Amazon’s Billion-Dollar B2B Portal is Growing Rapidly,” Digital Commerce 360;
13. “Seller Credential Program,” Amazon;
14. How it Works,” QualityTrade;

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