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Initiatives and Awards Urge Small Businesses Toward International Trade

By Elena Malykhina

International trade has historically been dominated by large companies. But the landscape is changing and more small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are becoming involved in import-export trade – thanks to the Internet and the rise of global production networks.1

Countries around the world now have awards programs to recognize these achievements and urge SMEs to do more, while international trade organizations launched programs in the summer of 2017 to encourage further participation of SMEs in international business.


North America Export Trade Awards


In the U.S., the number of smaller businesses that export has increased threefold over the past two decades. In fact, 98 percent of the 300,000 American companies that export are SMEs, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.2


The President's E Award for Exports3 dates back to the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy revived the "E" symbol of excellence to honor America's exporters. While the award historically recognized large household names like Ford, GE, and Campbell, most of the companies that receive the award today are SMEs. Over the past two years, more than 90 percent of the recipients of the President's E Award for Exports and the E Star Award for Exports – given to previous winners that have shown successive export growth – were SMEs, according to a spokesperson for the International Trade Administration (ITA) writing in a September 2017 email.


"Businesses, even the best managed businesses, don't always see sales patterns that go up year-over-year. This uncertainty is a key reason to look to international markets for more buyers," the ITA spokesperson said. "The companies recognized appreciate the acknowledgment of the President of the United States that they have overcome numerous obstacles to grow their businesses."


It is the highest honor available to U.S. companies successful in import-export trade. Winners can display the E Award logo across their marketing, which can lead to new business partnerships.


Canada, too, recognizes successful smaller businesses that participate in international trade with the Canada Export Awards, which are split among the Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario regions.4 In Ontario, there is a separate award given to small manufacturers with fewer than 50 employees.


The Canada Export Awards seek to increase awareness of the important role that exporting plays in the Canadian economy. The top exporters are promoted as corporate role models to encourage more involvement in exporting within the business community. According to the awards website, many of the winners have gone on to receive international recognition.


U.K. Export Trade Awards


In the U.K., 40 percent of SMEs trade internationally, according to a survey of 1,000 British SMEs by EE,5 a mobile and fixed-line digital communications carrier that is part of the BT Group. EE has launched a program of its own to "support U.K. small business trading ambitions in the EU and beyond." International trade could give small British businesses a 25 percent boost over the next five years, the survey found.


Companies with a minimum of £100,000 (approximately $135,000 at September 2017 exchange rates) in overseas sales in the first year and that show year-over-year growth are qualified to receive the Queen's Awards for Enterprise in the category of international trade. The award is open to companies of all sizes in every sector. So far, 150 companies have been recognized for their outstanding achievements in international trade. In 2016, winners included Andusia Recovered Fuels Limited, Cambridge Integrated Circuits, Squirrels UK, and ProSynth Limited – all companies that have fewer than 20 employees.


Winners of the Queen's Awards for Enterprise have reported benefits such as worldwide recognition, increased commercial value of their company, greater press coverage, and a boost to staff morale.6 Those companies also changed their marketing materials to include a logo of the award, which is valid for five years. Some additional perks include recognition by the Queen herself, with a royal reception at Buckingham Palace.


Global Initiatives Aim to Boost International Trade


Although smaller companies make up more than 90 percent of the world's economy and account for more than 70 percent of all jobs worldwide,7 there are barriers that keep them from doing business across borders. They are often unaware of the potentially wider markets available to them, or don't have the resources to deal with complex trading procedures.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) launched an initiative in August 2017 to help micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) overcome those obstacles.8 The ICC-WTO Small Business Champions initiative calls on global private sector companies to come up with ideas that help MSMEs get involved in international business. Companies have until the end of the year to submit proposals that include, for example, awareness-raising campaigns, competitions, and mentoring programs.


"Trading internationally can provide a huge boost to MSME growth. We know that small businesses which export tend to grow more quickly, pay better salaries, and create more jobs," ICC Secretary General John Danilovich said in a statement that introduced the initiative.9


The ICC and the WTO said the nature of their support will depend on the proposals, but it will not include financial assistance. Instead, the organizations will use their influence to promote initiatives, host events, or offer expertise to MSMEs.



SMEs could gain much from programs that honor successful exporters and raise awareness about the benefits of international trade.

Elena Malykhina - The Author

The Author

Elena Malykhina

Elena Malykhina is professional writer who has covered science, technology and business for more than 10 years. Her work has appeared in InformationWeek, Scientific American, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal and Adweek, as well as through the Associated Press.


1. World Trade Report 2016, World Trade Organization;
2. “Help Small Businesses to Export,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce;
3. “The President's ‘E’ and ‘E Star’ Awards,”;
4. “Canada Export Awards,” Glacier Media;
5. EE Launches International Plans to Support UK Small Business Trading Ambitions,” EE;
6. “The Queen's Awards for Enterprise,”;
7. “MSME Day 2017: Small business, Big impact,” International Trade Centre;
8. “ICC and WTO Launch ‘Small Business Champions’ Initiative and Open Call for Proposals,” World Trade Organization;
9. Ibid.

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