Elizabeth Guillot
Former Associate Manager, International Policy


June 13, 2019


At a June 12 event in the Capitol entitled “Digital Trade: Empowering U.S. Small Businesses to Export,” members of Congress, business leaders, and entrepreneurs from three states underscored the value of digital trade as a tool to boost small business exports.

The program opened with remarks from the Co-Chairs of the Digital Trade Caucus. Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) spoke on the importance of digital services exports:

Digital trade promotes innovation and economic growth, accounting for more than half of U.S. services exports. The U.S. runs a huge trade surplus in digital services — a part of the economy that’s responsible for nearly 6.7 million jobs.

Representative Darin LaHood (R-IL) echoed those remarks and called attention to the landmark digital trade provisions in the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):

The USMCA digital trade chapter is precedent setting – in a good way… It establishes the United States as a global leader in digital trade and outlines a high standard 21st century framework that can be used for future trade agreements.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, joined in emphasizing the value of USMCA’s digital trade chapter, particularly its importance for small business exporters.

Google CEO

From left, Karan Bhatia of Google, Laura Lane of UPS, and Sundar Pichai of Google attend “Digital Trade: Empowering U.S. Small Businesses to Export" on June 12.

Photo credit: Leigh Vogel.

“We’re excited about the potential of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. We believe USMCA will help expand the benefits of digital trade across North America and promote open digital trade frameworks globally.”

Pichai explained that digital trade is an issue that inspires collaboration between big companies and small businesses to unleash new economic opportunities. He also highlighted how American small businesses are using tools like Google’s Market Finder to discover and reach new markets globally.

Laura Lane, President of Global Public Affairs at UPS (which, like Google, serves as a Co-Chair of the USMCA Coalition), pointed out that UPS is not just a logistics company but a technology company that depends on robust digital trade rules to reach customers around the world:

“E-commerce and digital trade are powerful engines for growth for UPS’ small and medium sized customers, which is why the trade rules covering these important issues in the modernized USMCA are so important.”

The audience also heard from three small businesses that rely on digital tools to export their products around the world.

Small businesses and digital trade

From left, Ryan McFarland of Strider Sports International, Inc., Wei-Shin Lai of SleepPhones, Angie White of Beddy’s, and Betsy Mikesell of Beddy’s.

Photo credit: Leigh Vogel.

Wei-Shin Lai, Co-Founder & CEO of SleepPhones, founded SleepPhones with her husband. As a medical doctor, she would often receive late night calls from the hospital when she was on-call, and the couple devised the product as a means to help her fall back asleep. SleepPhones manufactures its product in Erie, Pennsylvania, and has exported to every continent — even Antarctica!

Beddy’s started when Co-Founder & CEO Betsy Mikesell knew she was not the only one struggling to make her children’s bunk beds. Angie White, Co-Founder & COO of Beddy’s, told the crowd that without video sharing, their product from Jordan, Utah, would not be in homes around the world.

Based in Rapid City, South Dakota, Strider Bikes allow children as young as six months old to ride their first bike. Founder & CEO Ryan McFarland has found online translating services critical in building business relationships and customers in other countries.

All three companies underscored their use of social media, digital advertising, and other online tools to get the word out about their products and reach customers internationally.

As impressive as the three firms’ accomplishments to date are, the advent of new digital tools and international rules such as those in the USMCA signal that the small business exporting revolution may be just beginning.

About the authors

Elizabeth Guillot

Elizabeth Guillot was associate manager for international policy.