By Justin Grensing
However, simply avoiding international trade can be a major handicap for SMEs, given the amount of money changing hands. Global e-commerce is expected to reach a value of $3.3 trillion in 2019 and $6.7 trillion by 2025.2 In an effort to help facilitate and improve how small business trades globally, the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) are in the process of developing an online trade platform called the “Global Trade Helpdesk,” available online at HelpMeTrade.org.3 The platform aims “to provide businesses, and particularly small businesses, with faster and easier access to trade data and information on potential export markets.”4
The Global Trade Helpdesk is currently in a beta phase, with full development planned over three three-year phases. However, full functionality is planned to be available in phase 1, and those interested can currently access the site to road-test the tool free of charge.5
Besides data from the ITC, UNCTAD, and WTO, the Helpdesk will integrate trade data from other sources, including international organizations and development banks. These will include the inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and the World Bank Group.6
The Helpdesk features a Support Materials section with various video tutorials and downloadable presentations to help explain how to use the Helpdesk, itself.7 But the primary features supporting international trade by small businesses are the customizable My Dashboard and Alerts sections.8
The My Dashboard section can be set up with multiple tabs specifying an SME’s trade scenarios of interest.9 For example, an SME might set up one tab for the export of frozen shrimp from Bangladesh to France, another for the export of green tea from Kenya to the United States, and yet another for the export of yogurt and milk from Germany to Morocco.10 Under each of these tabs can be found the same four modules with information specific to the trade scenario that’s been defined:
The Alerts section lists notifications relevant to the trade scenarios defined in the Dashboard.12 In a table format, it lists the country providing the notification as well as a brief description of the notification, impacted products, affected parties, and the date of the notification.13
The Global Trade Helpdesk isn't the only, or even the first, tool designed to help small businesses navigate international trade. Many governments offer free resources to help companies manage the relevant regulatory challenges, including the U.S. and EU.14,15 This is how the U.S.'s Export.gov describes itself, for example: "Developed by international trade experts and economists, Export.gov provides trusted market intelligence, practical advice and business tools to help U.S. companies expand in global markets."16 The site provides export guides, FAQs, message boards, and other resources for companies working through trading internationally.17
Further, transnational organizations have provided similar small business trading tools as part of their mission to facilitate global trade and economic development. The WTO's Global Trade Helpdesk falls into this category, but there are other examples already up and running. A couple of years ago, the World Bank launched TCdata360, which aggregates data from close to 2,000 trade and economic indicators for more than 200 countries and uses that information to put together visual comparisons of trade data in the form of graphs and charts.
Other services are more dynamic in nature and focus on providing information on—or connecting companies around the world engaged in—international trade. For example, a number of private companies aggregate data from the shipping databases of customs agencies in different countries and sell that data to customers on a subscription basis, allowing subscribers to identify potential trading partners and monitor the activity of competitors, customers, and suppliers.
SMEs are often at a disadvantage to large companies when it comes to international trade, simply because of the resources required to stay up to date and in compliance with tariffs, import/export restrictions, and the numerous other factors that impact how small business trades globally. But tools such as the Global Trade Helpdesk can help level the playing field for SMEs by providing a free means of staying on top of the latest policy and trade trends and regulations in an SME’s primary markets. The Global Trade Helpdesk aims to allow greater personalization so the information presented can be tailored to an SME’s specific needs.
Justin Grensing is a freelance writer, MBA and attorney who covers topics ranging from finance, marketing, human resources, legal/compliance, and general business.
1. “Go big or go home: getting small business to think large,” International Trade Forum; http://www.tradeforum.org/news/Go-big-or-go-home-getting-small-business-to-think-large/
3. “WTO, UNCTAD, ITC sign MoU to provide businesses with better access to trade date,” World Trade Organization; https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news18_e/igo_23nov18_e.htm
7. “Global Trade Helpdesk Learning Corner,” HelpMeTrade.org; http://www.helpmetrade.org/en/home/support-materials
8. “Global Trade Help Desk,” HelpMeTrade.org; http://www.helpmetrade.org/
9. “My Dashboard,” HelpMeTrade.org; http://www.helpmetrade.org/en/home/dashboard
12. “My Alerts,” HelpMeTrade.org; http://www.helpmetrade.org/en/home/alerts
14. “Welcome,” Export.gov; https://www.export.gov/welcome
15. “Trade Helpdesk,” European Commission; https://trade.ec.europa.eu/tradehelp/
16. “Welcome,” Export.gov; https://www.export.gov/welcome