July 31, 2023

Empowering American Small Businesses to Succeed in Global Markets

While I am proud of my three decades of doing business in all corners of the world, I always appreciate the opportunity to learn more about how to seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks of global business. Therefore, it was with great interest to learn about a document produced by the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM), an independent government agency that assists in financing and facilitating U.S. exports of goods and services, that helps empower American small businesses to succeed in global markets.

The document begins with presenting the services provided by the U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) as one-stop shops that equip American businesses to compete on a global scale. Specifically, USEACs bring multiple exporting resources together in one convenient location. These centers are situated throughout the country to offer support directly to businesses currently exporting or thinking about exporting. USEAC offices are staffed with three of the federal agencies engaged in assisting export businesses: (1) the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), (2) the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and (3) EXIM.

The DoC helps business owners learn how to export, connect with foreign buyers, and expand operations in new foreign markets. The SBA supports small businesses that are exporting or interested in learning more about exporting. Moreover, with the help of its partners, the SBA provides counseling and training, helps businesses find buyers with the State Trade Expansion Program, and has loan guarantee programs available specifically for exporters. One way that EXIM assists companies is by providing Export Credit Insurance. An Export Credit Insurance policy covers the accounts receivable generated by international sales, protecting your company against nonpayment by foreign buyers. The insurance policy mitigates risk while empowering companies to meet or beat their competitors. Business owners can use open account credit terms to win new customers and increase sales to existing buyers. Many posts on entrepreneurship in this forum provide additional details about some of the programs offered by these government agencies.

Addressing financing tools from EXIM, the document notes that running a small business comes with risks but getting paid does not need to be one of them. EXIM's Export Credit Insurance empowers business owners to grow sales while mitigating the risk of selling internationally. Using Export Credit Insurance empowers businesses to offer open account credit terms to compete more aggressively, protect their foreign receivables from nonpayment, expand their borrowing base and improve cash flow.

EXIM's Working Capital Loan Guarantee provides exporters with access to the cash needed to fulfill sales and take on new business abroad. Exporters can use a working capital loan to cover the costs of labor, materials, overhead, and supplies required to fulfill a foreign sale. A business can use their Working Capital to pay for materials, equipment, supplies, labor, and other expenses to fulfill export orders, post standby letters of credit serving as bid bonds, performance bonds, or payment guarantees, and purchase products for export.

The document correctly notes that "Locating new buyers overseas can be time consuming, expensive, and frustrating." It points out that the DoC is available to help by matching American exporters with foreign buyers. There are two programs that can businesses can utilize to grow their operations overseas:

DoC's Gold Key Matching Service arranges meetings with interested partners in international markets. The Gold Key team first identifies foreign buyers, assesses them, and provides profiles of the best matches. When it comes time for a meeting with a matching foreign company a member of the Gold Key team can accompany business owners and managers and provide support.

Through the Single Company Promotion, the DoC can organize a variety of promotional events to increase awareness of a company's products and services in a specific international market. These promotional events may include targeted email campaigns, seminars, webinars, direct mail campaigns, and receptions all designed to reach an audience of potential clients. The DoC handles all the logistics, project management, and provides a post-promotion review to discuss next steps.

While not mentioned in the document, it is worth mentioning Export.gov, which is managed by the DoC and International Trade Administration to assist businesses plan their international sales strategies and succeed in today's global marketplace.

Regarding the Small Business Administration, the SBA Learning Center gives businesses access to courses on all of these topics and more:
  • Planning and strategy to develop an international business plan
  • Legal and regulatory to help you navigate regulations and legal issues
  • Documentation and product requirements
  • Pricing development and strategy
  • Marketing and social media 

The SBA also works with lenders to guarantee loans in support of international trade. These include the  Export Express Loan, the International Trade Loan, and the Export Working Capital Loan. The SBA also has a grant program called the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) that provides funding to state and territory governments. These STEP funds are exclusively available to help small businesses with export development.

I possess extensive experience working with these three government agencies and can attest to the value each one provides for businesses looking to succeed in global markets. Feel free to contact me if I can be of service to you.

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

July 7, 2023

Report Calls for Urgent Support to Developing Countries to Attract Massive Investment in Clean Energy

In its 2023 edition of the World Investment Report, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)  called for urgent support to developing countries to enable them to attract significantly more investment for their transition to clean energy. Through this report, the Swiss-based agency of the United Nations, which promotes inclusive and sustainable development through trade, investment, finance, and technology, shows that much of the growth in international investment in renewable energy, which has nearly tripled since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, has been concentrated in developed countries.

In writing the report's Preface, António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, explains that the report "has an important role in the biggest battle of our lifetime: keeping temperature increases below the agreed limit of 1.5°C. By monitoring global, regional and national investment trends and developments, this report supports policymakers by showing where investment is on track, and where more is needed. The report's recommendations are an important guide to boosting climate finance and investment in developing countries – one of the most important factors in combating the climate crisis."

The report presents three key messages:

Global FDI retreats, but new project announcements show bright spots

"Global foreign direct investment (FDI) declined by 12 percent in 2022, to $1.3 trillion. The decline was mainly a result of lower volumes of financial flows and transactions in developed countries. Real investment trends were more positive, with growth in new investment project announcements in most regions and sectors. FDI in developing countries increased marginally, although growth was concentrated in a few large emerging economies. Inflows in many smaller developing countries were stagnant, and FDI to the least developed countries (LDCs) declined."

The report also notes that "Industry trends showed increasing project numbers in infrastructure and industries that face supply chain restructuring pressures, including the electronics, automotive and machinery industries. Three of the five largest investment projects were announced in semiconductors, in response to global chip shortages. Investment in digital economy sectors slowed after the boom in 2020 and 2021."

In addition, "Investment project numbers in energy remained stable, allaying, for now, fears of a reversal of the downward trend in fossil fuel investment due to the energy crisis. Oil majors are gradually selling fossil fuel assets to private equity firms and smaller operators with lower disclosure requirements, which calls for new dealmaking models to ensure responsible asset management."

The SDG investment gap widens despite the growth of sustainable finance

"International investment in sectors relevant for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing countries increased in 2022. Infrastructure, energy, water and sanitation, agrifood systems, health and education all saw increased project numbers. However, compared to 2015 when the SDGs were adopted, progress is modest."

Moreover, "A review of investment needs at the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development shows that the investment gap across all SDG sectors has increased from $2.5 trillion in 2015 to more than $4 trillion per year today. The largest gaps are in energy, water and transport infrastructure. The increase is the result of both underinvestment and additional needs."

The report also explains that "The growing SDG investment gap in developing countries contrasts with positive sustainability trends in global capital markets. The value of the sustainable finance market reached $5.8 trillion in 2022. Sustainable funds had positive net inflows while traditional funds experienced net outflows. Sustainable bond issuance also continues; it has grown five-fold over the past five years. Key priorities for the market are increasing exposure to developing countries and addressing greenwashing concerns."

Developing countries need vastly more support to attract energy investment

The report points out that "International investment in renewable energy has nearly tripled since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. However, much of this growth has been concentrated in developed countries." What is more, "More than 30 developing countries have not yet registered a single utility-sized international investment project in renewables. The cost of capital is a key barrier for energy investment in developing countries. Bringing in international investors in partnership with the public sector and multilateral financial institutions significantly reduces the cost of capital."

The report also importantly says "Most developing countries have set targets for the energy transition in nationally determined contributions. Only about one third of them have translated those targets into investment requirements, and few have developed the asset specifications that are needed to design targeted promotion mechanisms and to market bankable projects. As a result, many developing countries use generic fiscal and financial incentive mechanisms that are less effective for the promotion of energy transition investment."

Lastly on the topic of developing countries needing more support to attract energy investments, I strongly support UNCTAD's assertion that "De-risking support to lower the cost of capital for energy transition investment in developing countries must be vastly expanded. More technical assistance should be available for investment planning and project preparation. International investment agreements need accelerated reform to expand policy space for climate action and to strengthen investment promotion and facilitation provisions." Through this report, the Swiss-based agency of the United Nations, which promotes inclusive and sustainable development through trade, investment, finance, and technology, puts forward a Global Action Compac for Investment in Sustainable Energy for All with recommendations for national and international investment policies, global and regional partnerships, financing mechanisms and capital market involvement.

Writing the Forward, Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, insightfully notes that "Armed with the data and insights this report offers, it is imperative that stakeholders approach investment with a strategic mindset. The complexities and disparities highlighted demand astute decision-making, as the road ahead is fraught with challenges. Together we must navigate this landscape with resolve and intelligence, shaping a more sustainable and equitable world for generations to come."

What are your recommendations for developing countries can attract investment to bolster their clean energy sector?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.