United States Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chair Mary Landrieu, D-La., today introduced a bill to help increase small business trade opportunities. “S.1196: The Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2009” improves the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of International Trade to help create jobs and get the economy back on track.

In conjunction with the bill, Sen. Landrieu will host a field hearing in New Orleans on June 30 to further explore the topic and to hear from Louisiana businesses that could be affected.

“With cash registers not ringing like they used to on Main Street, exporting is becoming a practical solution for small businesses looking to survive and grow, “Sen. Landrieu said. “What helps our entrepreneurs helps our economy. Every $1 billion of exports creates more than 14,000 high-paying American jobs. By creating jobs and lessening the trade deficit, an increase in small business trade will lead us out of this recession and make our country better able to compete.”

Small businesses play a vital role in America’s international commerce, representing about 97 percent of all exporters. Yet, with only one percent of small firms exporting their goods – making up slightly more than a quarter of the country’s exporting volume – exporting remains dominated by large firms.

U.S. exports of goods and services grew by 12 percent in 2008 to $1.84 trillion, while imports increased 7.4 percent to $2.52 trillion– further evidence that more small business involvement in exporting would help reduce the country’s trade deficit.

The bill introduced today reasserts Sen. Landrieu’s call for a new Assistant United States Trade Representative focused exclusively on small business issues, helping to raise the profile of small exporters and ensuring that the interests of these exporters are represented during trade negotiations. Sen. Landrieu, along with her Ranking Member on the Committee, Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, sent a letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk on March 27 requesting this change. Ambassador Kirk has since responded indicating his willingness to look into creating such a position.

“S.1196: The Small Business International Trade Enhancements Act of 2009” also:

• Moves the Office of International Trade from its current location within the Office of Capital Access and creates a new office directly accountable to the SBA Administrator;

• Creates an Associate Administrator to head the office in charge of overseeing all trade policy and programs, as well as coordinates efforts with other Agencies;

• Requires the SBA to maintain at least 22 trade financial specialist positions to provide business counseling and technical assistance to small exporters through the United States Export Assistance Centers (USEAC’s), operated by the Department of Commerce. Currently, there are only 17 financial specialist positions; and

• Adjusts the Agency’s trade loan programs by increasing the total amount of financing available through the International Trade Loan Programs and adjusts the collateral requirements by allowing a second lien position on property or equipment financed by a loan or on other assets of the small business.

The March 24th letter from Sens. Landrieu, Snowe and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is available online here.

Ambassador Kirk’s response is available online here: