Ross Bernard started American Nettings & Fabric in the early 1980s and now employs six people in Ferndale, a small town in Washington state that’s a 15-minute drive from the Canadian border. Bernard is a Canadian citizen, but he set up his business in the U.S. so he could exploit its 14 free-trade agreements. He expects 80 percent of his $3 million in sales this year to go abroad, much of it to Latin American fruit growers who use his plastic netting to protect their produce from hungry birds. American Nettings’ only other office is in Peru, which in 2006 inked an agreement with the U.S. that scrapped the 15 percent tariff the South American country once levied on U.S. imports. Says Bernard: “Our customers follow these free-trade deals.”
Multinationals including Boeing, Caterpillar, and Microsoft have long dominated the ranks of American businesses lobbying for freer trade. This year they’re being joined by people like Bernard. Since the recession, small businesses have increasingly sought customers overseas. In 2006 small and midsize exporters accounted for 28.9 percent of sales by U.S. companies abroad; in 2013 that figure was 33.6 percent. These companies are making their voices heard in the debate over trade policy that kicked off in earnest on April 16, when a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill to grant President Obama authority to negotiate a trade and investment treaty encompassing a dozen Asia-Pacific nations.
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