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New Web Sites, Features Let You Easily Extend Reach for Clients and Suppliers Overseas

August 23, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Your business may be located in North Hollywood or Northridge, but, if it is Web-based, your customers and suppliers could be in North Dakota or Northern Ireland. New tools and Web sites now make it easier to reach overseas for clients, business partners and suppliers.

EcommUSA.com, for one, operates a membership-based global business e-marketplace. EcommUSA.com aims to help companies broaden their markets by listing their products and services in online catalogs aimed primarily at Asian markets. There are various levels of membership ranging from free for businesses that want to browse or buy, to $1,700 a year for businesses that want to list products in the online catalog. Listings are in both Chinese and English, with other languages to follow.

The year-old San Jose company offers tools that allow you to conduct auctions, reverse auctions and support group buying. The site also offers a free e-mail address and a chat service, called electronic secure business messaging, that enables members to communicate via a secure Internet connection. The service supports the ability to save transcripts of chats as well as to instantly transfer text files, images and business forms. The service's Web-based e-mail, while useful, is similar to other free e-mail services such as Hotmail.

The company also offers a listing service called "Trade Zone" where vendors can buy and sell products. The "zone" is divided into logical categories of goods and services.

Another resource for businesses interested in trading with China is MeetChina.com. This San Francisco-based start-up operates a trade portal linking Chinese buyers and sellers with businesses in the rest of the world. The site recently launched what it calls a "negotiation platform" that allows members to use the Web to negotiate directly with suppliers in China.

If you do wind up buying or selling something overseas, you also need to get it from one country to another. If you're a buyer, that's relatively easy, but sellers sometimes have to do some heavy lifting when it comes to customs and other formalities. Federal Express can help.

The international shipping company recently added "Global Trade Manager" to its Web site mainly for use by small businesses that ship overseas. Billed as a "one-stop resource for international shipping assistance," the Web pages provide help finding and printing the necessary documents for getting merchandise into the many companies Federal Express delivers to.

Available online forms include the "certificate of origin" used under the North American Free Trade Agreement, commercial invoices, shipper's export declarations and shipper's letters of instruction. You can choose to complete them online or you can print a blank form if you prefer to fill them out by hand. There also are special forms for individual countries.

The Web site's "daily brief" section summarizes international trade and business news, including regulatory developments, information from international news wires, and updates from the U.S. Federal Register.

The site also provides basic education in export rules and procedures. The "export readiness assessment system" tells what you need to know to be able to export effectively. A 23-question test evaluates your readiness to start exporting products and offers suggestions on steps to take to improve your readiness. With questions on your sales techniques, market research information, advertising strategies, and experience with foreign markets, the test gives a sense of what you might need to do before you start exporting your products.

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Another free resource from Federal Express is a trade leads retrieval system called "Trade Broker" that accesses an international database of offers to buy and sell. You can search the database by keywords and focus your search on all countries or specific countries. Someone in the beverage business, for example, might be interested to know that a company in China is in the market for a "great quantity" of "soft drinks, soda, fruit juice and mineral water."

When considering export resources don't overlook what Uncle Sam has to offer. The Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration (http://www.ita.doc.gov) has answers to many export questions, even the most basic.

The site also has specific information for each country, including lists of agents and distributors, a comprehensive look at a country's trade potential, required documentation, intellectual property protection, custom regulations, political environment, prohibited imports and far more. There is even information about trading with Cuba, North Korea and Iraq, including legal ways to test the limits of the various trade embargoes.

This is also the place to learn about NAFTA and other international treaties and agreements that could affect your ability to do business overseas. There is even a section on "business related bribes to foreign public officials." It's not a "how-to" guide, but a serious look at the problem.

For more resources on exporting, check out the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration's site (http://www.bxa.doc.gov), and search for the word "export" at the Small Business Administration's Online Library (http://www.sba.gov/library).

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Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 2:10 p.m. weekdays on the KNX (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com.

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