WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators John F. Kerry (D-Mass.),Chairman of the Small Business Committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), are asking U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Zoellick for support and guidance in their effort to place an advocate for small business within the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Senators said they view the move as a crucial step toward enhancing the involvement of small businesses in international trade.

"When we deny representation to small businesses in the arena of international trade, we exclude 97 percent of U.S. exporters," said Senator John F. Kerry. "Additionally, when small businesses do compete at the international level, their challenges are unique, and the WTO, the world's principal trade organization, must take them into account. Our small businesses deserve a level playing field."

In April, Kerry and Snowe, who both serve on the Senate Committees on Finance and Small Business, introduced bipartisan legislation to help small businesses carve out a niche in international trade, and provide a greater focus at the WTO to address small business concerns.

In a letter to Zoellick today, the Senators urged his support for their effort, and asked for guidance on specific steps the U.S. Trade Representative can take to create a position within the WTO. The Senators also offered to work with Ambassador Zoellick on any legislative actions necessary for creation of such a position.

"Small businesses face enormous challenges in breaking into the trade game and competing on a level playing field internationally, as they face a range of unique challenges," the Senators told Zoellick, "and we believe the WTO should devote more attention and resources to small businesses."

The Senators noted that less than one percent of U.S. small businesses are engaged in international trade related activities - offering a substantial potential for growth in this sector. Nationwide, America's 13 to 16 million small businesses account for more than 99 percent of all employers, and employ about 50 percent of the private workforce. Over the past five years, small business exports have increased by 300 percent, now accounting for about 31 percent of the dollar value of all U.S. exports.

Kerry and Snowe detailed ways the WTO might assist small businesses, ranging from assistance in assuring international protection of intellectual property rights; to settlement of trade disputes; to enhancing small business access to e-commerce. "Because the WTO is the principal international organization for rules governing worldwide international trade, it has the potential to address a range of global trade issues of concern to small businesses in the United States. It stands to reason that better coordination is needed between small business support and advocacy agencies throughout the world," they said.