More than half of middle-market companies (54%) export to foreign markets and 48% import, according to “Winning in the Americas,” a recent report from the National Center for the Middle Market at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. For most, international operation is a two-way street—58% of those doing business in foreign markets export as well as import. Middle-market exporters tend to concentrate their international efforts, with the majority (43%) selling to one or two foreign markets, 19% selling to three, 13% to four and just 9% to five.
Canada and Mexico rank as the first and second most important trading partners among these exporters, likely due to the North American Free Trade Agreement launched in 1994. Sixty-three percent of middle-market exporters send goods to Canada, while 39% sell to Mexico. By comparison, just over a third of middle-market exporters sell to Europe and only 28 percent sell to China. Those who succeed in international markets report taking a disciplined approach to global growth by sequencing market entry carefully and monitoring progress.
Forty-three percent report ongoing planning and 26% conduct periodic reviews of international operations and expansion plans. Top hurdles cited by those successfully operating abroad include transport costs, political risk and finding the right partners. The degree of difficulty varies by country, with Western Hemisphere countries tending to be viewed as easier markets to enter (see chart at right).
Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are widely viewed as facilitating market access; nearly half of middle-market executives report that FTAs helped boost their exports and imports. Going forward, 92% of internationalized companies plan to sell more overseas, with more than a third considering new markets as a result of the provisions of the possible Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
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