A Virtual World Trade Center

The Internet allows even the smallest firms to forge international business deals

When cigarette manufacturer Inter Tobacco Inc. of Miami decided to expand its business to South America, the small firm determined it could not afford to ship its salesmen to Brazil, Bogota and Bolivia. Instead, ITI Miami jumped on the information superhighway to find new markets.

ITI Miami is just one of America's small businesses using the Internet as a tool to reap international sales. Firms are increasingly turning to the network of networks to reach out to foreign companies that they ordinarily would not have the resources to do business with.

"Electronic media are part of the solution to helping small companies expand internationally," said Ralph Gagne, CEO of NAFTAnet, an Austin, Texas-based company that offers advice to firms looking for international markets. "With the Internet, small companies are no longer constrained by the location and region that their marketing group is in," Gagne said. Firms are using the Internet to communicate with other businesses around the world and as a resource for learning about the complexities of foreign trade. In essence, the electronic medium has become a virtual World Trade Center.

Because of the Internet, it's no longer necessary to fly representatives around the world to find prospective business opportunities. Instead, companies can find and communicate with foreign business contacts electronically. By setting up a presence on the World Wide Web, the business center of the Internet, small firms let other companies around the world know what products or services they have to sell. Basically, the small company is getting worldwide advertising without the costs of launching an international ad campaign. "...A small firm can have the same presence on the Web as a multinational corporation," Gagne said. There are already about 50,000 business home pages on the Internet, which is itself growing at about 15- to 20 percent a month. The fastest Internet growth is coming from countries other than the U.S., which means international business opportunities are expanding rapidly. In addition to making contacts with foreign companies, small firms also use the Internet's trade resources. The Internet carries dozens of sites that contain trade expertise, such as what U.S. rules a company must follow to export computer software, or Canadian electronic commerce law. Gagne's firm has created a site, www.nafta.net, to help American, Canadian and Mexican firms take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement's relaxation of trade barriers. Gagne created the NAFTA Web site last year because he saw that big U.S. companies had stepped up their trading with Canada and Mexico, but most small firms still were unable to take advantage of the agreement's incentives. NAFTAnet helps companies from the three countries find each other and offers trade advice.

Internet Resources for International Trade

U.S. International Trade Administration http://www.ita.doc.gov

World Bank's International Trade



International Trade Network Trade Leads




Royal Bank of Canada's International Trade Home Page


International Marketing Insights


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