For American small businesses, 95% of potential consumers live outside of the borders of the United States, yet small businesses only account for 25% of the U.S.’ annual exports. If the vast majority of potential consumers live abroad, why aren’t American small businesses taking advantage of international trade to grow their revenues?
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. businesses cite a range of challenges to exporting, including communication and language barriers, tariffs and customs procedures, and foreign regulations. Many business owners don’t want the hassle of additional paperwork, despite the enormous potential to grow their businesses.
The USAID Private Sector Activity (PSA) is designed to help American agribusinesses overcome these various barriers to entry and begin exporting their products to Azerbaijan and the other countries in the Greater Caspian Region with high demand for U.S. agricultural products. PSA’s licensed trade specialists are committed to helping you understand the necessary paperwork and logistics through every step of the exporting process.
So, which forms of export documentation might you encounter doing business in the Caspian?
Standard Export Documentation
Although required export shipping documents vary depending on the country of destination, type of product, and payment methods, expect that a certain amount of documentation will be standard in every transaction. The most common exporting documents are the following:
Bill of Lading or Air Waybill - The most common document used in international shipment, a bill of lading is a contract between the owner of the products and the carrier. It specifies which products are to be shipped, their destination, and the origin of the shipment. Besides providing shipping directions, the bill of lading or airway bill also serves as a receipt issued by the carrier.
Commercial Invoice - A document describing the entire export transaction from beginning to end, including the shipping terms. The commercial invoice requires a description of the products, the sales price, and the cost of insurance and freight. The details are used to calculate import duties and taxes.
Packing List - A packing list is a document listing the products to be shipped, information about how they were packed and numbered, as well as the dimensions of the products, including height, weight, length, and other dimensions.
Certificate of Origin - Certificates of origin are documents prepared by the manufacturer and certified by a government entity or chamber of commerce. They are used to identify the country where the products were manufactured.
Other Situation-Specific Export Documentation
Depending on the type of product, shipping route, and financing mechanism of the transaction, there may be several other documents you will need to complete.
A document specific to a country or region may require additional certification, such as Inspection or Manufacturer's Certificates. Inspection Certificates are usually required for industrial equipment, perishable merchandise and meat products. They certify that the items were received in good condition and that the shipment contained the correct quantity.
A Certificate of Manufacture, on the other hand, is a notarized document certifying that the products were produced by the given manufacturer.
Product-specific documentation may also be necessary, and can include licenses, permits, ingredient certifications for agricultural or agrochemical products, or laboratory analysis statements registered with U.S. government organizations such as the USDA, EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, and Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The U.S. Census Bureau's Electronic Export Information (EEI) form is required for products valued greater than $2,500, as well as products specified in a letter of credit, if this is the form of payment chosen for the transaction.
U.S. exporters should also be aware that, although the the U.S. Census Bureau states that the information in an Electronic Export Information form is confidential, many foreign entities continue to request copies of EEIs, which can stall the progress of a transaction.
How to Get Started
Prior to your first international trade transaction, take time to research export documentation requirements and decide whether you want to complete them in house or delegate the documentation process to an import-export management company or a freight forwarder.
If your export and import documents are improperly prepared, your shipments may not clear U.S. or foreign customs and your payments may be at risk. Your shipper or foreign partner may be knowledgeable on the export documentation needed for your product.
Ultimately, consulting with experienced international trade specialists is the most effective solution to successfully navigating the world of export documentation. Whether or not your food and agriculture business has international experience, the USAID PSA team will help you with communication and exporting your products to the Greater Caspian Region at no additional cost to you. Click the ‘Contact Us’ button below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to begin your exporting journey.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article and services provided by USAID contractors for the implementation of USAID projects do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.