International Trade Center helps businesses with global reach

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PORTLAND — Even in the face of recent tariffs on a host of overseas goods by President Trump and the resulting retaliations by foreign governments, businesses in Maine are still making their presence felt in the global marketplace.

In fact, last year Maine companies exported $2.7 billion in goods and services to 176 countries around the world, and international trade supports nearly 1 in 4 jobs across the state, according to the Maine International Trade Center.

To assist Maine businesses in developing and expanding their international trade opportunities, this fall the center will offer a new, three-tiered approach to providing the practical skills needed to succeed globally.

Called GlobalU, the education series will include a variety of in-person seminars and live webinars that will focus on the four main pillars of international trade – logistics, finance, legal and marketing.

GlobalU runs from September through May and kicks off with an entry-level seminar entitled “Accidental Exporter” on Sept. 19 at RiRa’s on Commercial Street. This introductory session is designed to cover the core things businesses need to consider when selling their products on the international scene.

Along with its education series, the trade center also offers one-on-one consulting and research, group trade shows, connections around the world and an export reimbursement fund for small businesses.

Members of the Maine International Trade Center run the gamut from educational institutions, such as the University of Maine, to manufacturers, service providers and economic development and governmental agencies.

The trade center works with businesses to “help identify international opportunities for export sales and investment (because) we still believe that international trade is an effective economic growth strategy,” said Wade Merritt, the center’s president.

According to Merritt, more than 95 percent of the world’s customer base is located outside the United States, so “no matter what products a company makes, chances are there’s an export opportunity to increase sales.”

So far, he said retaliatory trade tariffs by Canada, China and the European Union on Maine businesses have been narrow in scope, with only about 5 percent of the state’s exports being directly affected.

“The more significant story is how U.S. import tariffs on aluminum and steel have increased the costs of raw materials used in manufacturing, which will in turn impact (the ability of Maine) companies to compete in global, as well as domestic markets,” Merritt said. “There is real concern that Maine jobs, and in some cases entire companies, may be at risk.”

With GlobalU, the Maine International Trade Center, which was created by the Legislature more than 20 years ago, hopes to help companies in the state avoid common pitfalls and mistakes when engaging in worldwide trade.

The three-tiered approach includes entry-level training sessions, mid-level sessions and experienced-level opportunities.

“Entry-level seminars are meant for those new to export and import, who are still determining if the time is right for them to begin international trade,” the trade center website states.

The mid-level offerings are “for those with some export experience (and) will include more advanced, in-depth content on topics such as international documentation. Experienced-level training is geared toward those who have experience in several international markets and sell a significant portion of their products/services abroad,” the site adds.

Merritt said the trade center moved to a tiered approach to its educational offerings based on input from members and industry professionals.

“Over the last several months MITC refined our approach to delivering trade education,” he said. “This structure provides a path for businesses to continue gaining the knowledge needed to grow their international sales.”

For example, “‘Export 101,’ an entry-level seminar, will cover topics such as the role of a freight forwarder/customs house broker, required documents for international shipments, the advantages of different international payment methods and how foreign exchange rates may impact your bottom line,” Merritt said.

Those interested in GlobalU offerings can attend as few or as many sessions as they like, and the time commitment and cost involved would be dependent on the number of seminars a business or company signs up for. The GlobalU calendar of events is available on the trade center website.

Merritt said any company, from one that’s new to exporting to one that has a lot of experience on the international scene, would benefit from what GlobalU has to offer. And, while there is no training focused only on the president’s trade tariffs, “specific tariffs and regulations will be discussed by the presenters where appropriate.”

Not surprisingly, 45 percent of Maine’s international trade is with Canada, which accounts for about $1.2 billion a year. The next highest trading partners are found in Asia, which accounts for about $769 million a year, according to the Maine International Trade Center.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Michael Stone, from Stone & Associates in Portland, facilitates an ExporTech seminar for the Maine International Trade Center. This session will be offered again in spring 2019 as part of the trade center’s new GlobalU education series.

Gov. Paul LePage makes the case for Maine businesses during an Arctic Circle Assembly session held in Reykjavík, Iceland last fall. International trade accounts for 1 in 4 Maine jobs, according to the Maine International Trade Center.