Trade agreements 101
Trade agreements provide a more certain and predictable environment for small businesses. They can also make your products more cost competitive. The U.S. government also pursues other agreements to advance small business issues. Find out more about U.S. trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, and other trade agreements with small business provisions:
Review the Learn About Trade Roundtable: Going Global with Trade Agreements video to learn about:
- The basics of trade agreements
- Which countries have trade agreements with the United States
- How to take advantage of a trade agreement
- Federal resources available to small business exporters
SBA's fact sheet on the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement: Food & Agricultural Sales provides steps to follow to fully utilize the U.S. agreement with Japan.
Learn more about how small businesses can take advantage of the opportunities in U.S.-Colombia trade, including the U.S.-Colombia Preferential Trade Agreement, from a joint webinar: Coffee with the Embassy of Colombia and SBA - 200 Years of Diplomatic Relations and Trade Opportunities Between the U.S. and Colombia.
U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA)
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has modernized NAFTA into a 21st century, high-standard trade agreement. USMCA enters into force on July 1, 2020, replacing NAFTA. USMCA supports mutually beneficial trade leading to freer markets, fairer trade, and robust economic growth in North America.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also provides resources including official guidance, frequently asked questions, and a USMCA Center staffed with experts to assist with implementation. The USMCA Center is a cornerstone of CBP’s USMCA implementation plan and will serve as a central communication hub for CBP and the private sector community, including traders, brokers, freight forwarders, and producers, ensuring a smooth and efficient transition from NAFTA to USMCA. Email direct inquiries for the USMCA Center to USMCA@cbp.dhs.gov.
Find the full text of the USMCA online at the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office. Eligibility for benefits is based on meeting rules of origin found in Chapter 4 (PDF) “Rules of Origin”. Chapter 5 (PDF) “Origin Procedures” provides a list of minimum data elements to make a claim in Chapter 5, Annex 5-A. Small businesses can find additional guidance for these chapters in the uniform regulations. Small businesses are reminded of the importance of good record-keeping when claiming eligibility and following the laws and regulations of the destination countries.
The FTA Tariff Tool Finder can help you determine the rule of origin for goods you would like to import or export claiming trade preference if eligible under USMCA or other U.S. trade agreements.
You can also explore the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement Implementation Act to learn about changes required for USMCA to replace NAFTA in the United States.
What does the USMCA mean for small businesses?
The USMCA recognizes the fundamental role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as engines of the North American economy. In fact, Mexico and Canada are the top two export destinations for U.S. SME goods. For the first time in a U.S. trade agreement, the USMCA includes a dedicated chapter on SMEs, as well as other key provisions supporting small and medium-sized businesses throughout the agreement.
To learn more about the benefits of USMCA to SMEs, please visit the U.S. Trade Representative’s USMCA SME Factsheet, Chapter 25 (PDF) of the USMCA agreement on SMEs. For additional information on benefits of the agreement, please see:
- SBA Fact Sheet: USMCA: Opportunities for Small Business (PDF)
- SBA Blog on USMCA: "USMCA is More Business for Small Business"
- USMCA Fact Sheets at ustr.gov
- USMCA Issue-Specific Fact Sheets at ustr.gov
- USMCA Small Business Checklist and Underserved Communities Resources (PDF) (Includes resource fact sheets for minority-owned small businesses [PDF], women-owned small businesses [PDF], and Native American-owned small businesses [PDF].)
The inaugural USMCA SME Dialogue was held April 22, 2022, in San Antonio, Texas. The Dialogue is one of the commitments created by the USMCA SME Chapter. Review the agenda, presentations, the press release, and other information from the Dialogue.
Learn more about exporting to Canada and Mexico from SBA OIT’s Learn to Trade webinars: Accessing the Canadian Market and Accessing the Mexican Market. For information on resources for women exporters, please view the joint webinar from SBA and the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration.
U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade
The United States and Taiwan are pursuing this Initiative to strengthen and deepen the economic and trade relationship between them. This agreement was negotiated under the auspices of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO).
The first agreement under the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade was signed on June 1, 2023. It covers customs administration and trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, services domestic regulation, anticorruption, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This agreement also has several provisions that are beneficial to SMEs, including promoting transparency online and encouraging trade opportunities between the U.S. and Taiwan.
To learn more about the agreement and opportunities for U.S. small businesses in Taiwan:
Other programs to support trade with specific markets
Prosper Africa is a U.S. Government initiative to increase trade and investment between African nations and the United States. Prosper Africa brings together services and resources from across the U.S. Government to empower businesses and investors with market insights, deal support, financing opportunities, and solutions to strengthen business climates. U.S. small businesses can connect with Prosper Africa’s information on trading with African nations, deal teams, and other federal resources. Review the Prosper Africa Toolkit to learn about resources to support trade with Africa. The Prosper Africa website also has a list of upcoming events.
U.S. small businesses may already be providing goods and services through U.S. government contracting opportunities. A track record of successfully delivering goods and/or services to the U.S. government domestically or in trade-related activities may help distinguish your business globally as well.
U.S. trade agreements often include commitments to provide U.S. businesses access to compete on a level playing field in agreed “covered” portions of government procurement. U.S. small businesses can find foreign government and international organization procurement information and assistance from the International Trade Administration.
For assistance with sales of U.S. goods to foreign governments, explore the Office of Advocacy at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Local assistance abroad
Working with a foreign distributor or wholesaler provides another channel to market. State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) award or other programs may be available from your State to help you identify foreign partners to represent you in a market.
The commercial or economic sections of U.S. embassies and consulates may also be able to assist with questions. For food and agricultural products, U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service in foreign markets can help.
Trade events to explore foreign markets
International Trade Administration Trade Missions: The U.S. Department of Commerce’s ITA organizes in-person and virtual trade events. The calendar features trade mission to export markets.
USTDA reverse trade missions: Reverse trade missions and other USTDA events are opportunities for small businesses to identify potential foreign partners and projects.
USDA Resource Partners’ State and Regional Trade Groups have ongoing trade events. Find your local partner at USDA.gov.
Office of International Trade Hotline
Contact the Office of International Trade Hotline
For additional help, please contact SBA’s Office of International Trade Hotline: 855-722-4877 or email@example.com.