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Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: Overview of Participation in U.S. Exports

Investigation No. 332-508
USITC Publication 4125


U.S. small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for about 30 percent of known U.S. merchandise exports between 1997 and 2007, reports the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in its newly released report.

The most heavily exported goods were computer and electronic products, machinery, and chemicals, with the biggest share of merchandise exports going to Canada and Mexico, according to the report.

Prepared for the U.S. Trade Representative, the publication provides an overview of SME characteristics, including their role in generating domestic jobs and economic activity; describes the value of overall SME exports; lists the principal products, industries, and destination markets involved; and highlights data gaps that inhibit a complete understanding of SMEs’ role in U.S. exports. It is the first of three reports that will examine the extent and composition of U.S. exports by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and factors that may disproportionately impede U.S. SME exports.

The ITC found:

  • SMEs accounted for approximately 30 percent of known U.S. merchandise exports between 1997 and 2007 and about half of private nonagricultural gross domestic product (GDP) between 1998 and 2004.

  • Top merchandise export categories for SMEs in 2007 were electrical products, machinery, and chemicals; these goods were primarily exported to Canada and Mexico. Wood products and apparel and accessories were the sectors with the highest concentrations of SME exports.

  • Canada and Mexico were the largest destination markets for U.S. merchandise exports from firms of all sizes, including SMEs, in 2007.

  • Much of the growth in SME merchandise exports between 1997 and 2007 was attributable to an increase in the number of net new market entrants – SMEs that were new to exporting. Export growth from large firms, by contrast, resulted almost exclusively from increases in the value of exports by existing firms.

  • Judging by patterns of cross-border exports and the operations of U.S. affiliates abroad, it is likely that Canada and the United Kingdom were among the largest markets for U.S. SMEs’ services exports in two important fields (finance/insurance and professional services) in 2006-2008.

  • The lack of information concerning the size of the manufacturing firms that provide SME wholesalers with their goods for distribution and the absence of published data on SME services sector exports have inhibited a more extensive analysis of the role that SMEs play in U.S. exports.

The USITC's report is now available at:

Also available on CD-ROM and in print; call 202.205.2000 for more information.