Archive | June, 2011
WTD - Content Guidelines

World Trade Daily – Content Guidelines for Prospective Articles and Interviews

As our motto states, WTD focuses on “world trade data, information technologies and business applications”. Furthermore, we attempt to focus on the practical versus the theoretical.

World trade encompasses trillions of dollars in transactions annually and billions every day. It happens every day. And every day business decisions are being made that affect the ebb and flow of global commerce. Every day, decision makers utilize various sources and types of world trade data to make the best decisions they can.

WTD is about this data, the suppliers and resources available, the methods of gathering, refining, integrating and technologically transforming and presenting the data and, most importantly, the specific business applications of the data.

Thus, the scope of WTD content needs to address some aspect of the foregoing. For instance, articles about trade policy, foreign currency, global economics and the like will ONLY be accepted IF there are clearly delineated, specific applications to the world of trade not hypothetically but actually. Thus, case examples by actual users are helpful.

That having been said, we are extremely interested to showcase the various people who work within the world trade information business as well as the users of their respective products and services. The greatest “value added” within the process of transforming raw data into usable business intelligence is accomplished by the intervention of creative, talented people within the industry: CEO/entrepreneurs, marketing managers, DBAs, web developers, analysts, consultants and teachers who all attempt to bring meaning and relevance to raw, many times obtuse, versions of data.

In addition, the experience of actual users of world trade information with its many and sundry business applications is essential. WTD is a non-partial, transparent forum wherein users can express questions, concerns, and successes utilizing various products and sources of data. Therefore, we invite all comments, whether positive and negative, from users of existing products and data suppliers.

We plan to evaluate and report on every major world trade data source, supplier, product and service. We will interview appropriate executives and technical staff whenever possible as well as their current /past users. Intelligent application of data is contingent upon comprehensive understanding of the data itself as well as the methods by which the data can be best employed. Therefore, we will “dig deep” into the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of various types of data. To do such, we will seek the insight, understanding and contribution of industry experts.

Please remember, particularly if you are a vendor, that WTD is an educational/social forum. “Gentle” promotion is encouraged. Gratuitous aggrandizement is not. We adhere to the principal of “attraction versus promotion”. However, WTD does provide you, the vendor, with an interactive environment wherein prospective clients can become fully informed of the respective benefits and competitive strengths of your product or service and give you an opportunity to educate them to a successful close.

If you wish to submit an article to WTD or arrange for an interview, please contact me at Robert@WorldTradeDaily.com

Golden Dgo

WTD International Trade News of the Week. Pick of the Litter Series, vol. # 9

Internet economy: Wireless broadband subscriptions top half a billion, says OECD. Wireless broadband subscriptions in OECD countries had exceeded half a billion by the end of 2010, an increase of more than 10 percent on June 2010, according to new OECD statistics. The Netherlands and Switzerland lead the table, with 38.1 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, followed by Denmark (37.7) and Norway (34.6). DSL is still the most widely used technology (57.6%) followed by cable (29.4%).

Commerce Blog: Make It In America.  American manufacturing helped make this the most prosperous country on earth, and it helped build a strong middle class.  Congress attempts to build on the six Make It In America bills signed into law last year, which promote innovation, strengthen our workforce and help companies produce more at home. These bills invest in science, technology, engineering, and math education to prepare a highly skilled workforce.  Is it too late?  We hope not.

From U.S. Census Bureau Global Reach Blog: Featured Video: What is a Freight Forwarder? Part 2.  You might want to also check out What is a Freight Forwarder? Part 1. These videos are taken from a series of export videos produced jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

From USDA/ERS: Feed Grains Database: This database contains statistics on four feed grains (corn, grain sorghum, barley, and oats), foreign coarse grains (feed grains plus rye, millet, and mixed grains), hay, and related items. This includes data published in the monthly Feed Outlook and previously annual Feed Yearbook. Data are monthly, quarterly, and/or annual depending upon the data series.  Available data include:

  • Supply: beginning stocks, production, and imports.
  • Demand: utilization for food, seed, and industrial uses, feed and residual, exports, and ending stocks.
  • Prices: farm and market prices.
  • Quantities fed: concentrates, oilseed meals, and animal and grain protein feeds.
  • Feed-price ratios: livestock, poultry, and milk.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

From the U.S. Commerce Blog: Tapping Experts to Improve Federal Statistics: The Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee. Major economic statistics tell us fundamental facts about the state of the economy, where we have been and how we are doing. Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee (FESAC) advises the heads of the Census Bureau and BEA both in the Department of Commerce as well as the Department of Labor’s BLS. FESAC’s mission, to recommend research to address important technical problems, aims at improving exact complex economic statistics relying on data from not just one but two or three of these agencies

An important step in improving Trade Intelligence is improving the veracity of the fundamental building blocks – DATA.  It would have been advisable to include industry practitioners not just professors though.  Practical, applicable solutions aren’t likely to be discovered within the sole domain of academia. 

A WTD blog sponsor supporting the community

World Trade Daily: Advertisers, Sponsors and Partners. Oh My!

As a trade information supplier, you have an opportunity to share what’s exciting, unique and valuable about your products and services. You have a venue to share your story with an audience who is vested in knowing about what you offer.

Although the nature of the WTD forum is more informational than promotional, most prospects nowadays respond much better to an “edu-sales” approach than to a hard edged traditional sales angle.

Your competition is using social media. If you aren’t, you’d better start. If you are using social media as part of your marketing “mix”, expand upon it by contributing regularly to the WTD community as a featured author.

If you are interested in enhancing your visibility further, you may want to consider becoming an advertiser by purchasing a permanent placement banner ad or featured post advertisement appearing in rotation on the home page. Both of these will make your company or cause visible.

The WTD forum is an ideal place for you, as a trade information supplier, to get noticed. Your participation will help us grow as a community. As our community grows it will, in turn, help your business grow.

Beyond advertisements and/or pertinent trade intelligence related articles, we invite you to consider partnering with us by underwriting or sponsoring World Trade Daily directly.

Our vision is to provide free open source access to our vast data repositories and A.I. engine as well as provide an open forum for exchange and connection within the global trade community, particularly those that rely upon trade information to navigate its choppy waters.

The WTD is an ideal venue for trade information suppliers to tell their story

In order to provide free access to all, we need help from those can and will support the vision. Even with our initial contribution of the million dollar technology and data base repositories, there are ongoing expenses involved in acquiring new data, feeding it into the machine and verifying it afterwards. In addition, there is hosting, software licenses, technical maintenance and administration.

The soft costs of data, hosting and technology maintenance could be absorbed by a partnering trade intelligence provider, educational institution or trade association providing in-kind services and/or data, daily customs waterborne import DVDs ($100 per day), statistical DVDs from Census, or hosting and technical maintenance.  Reciprocally, the partnering institution will receive administrative access and development rights to the most advanced system of its kind in the world.

We also plan to expand WorldTradeDaily.com publication to 1,000 plus posts per year with 50 or so contributing authors. Besides myself, this will necessitate the addition of a full-time time staff editor and a handful of freelance writers.  Additional business expenses such as attendance at trade related conferences for the purpose of conducting interviews, networking and supplemental marketing costs would make up most of the remainder of the budget.

World Trade Daily is the only forum of its kind: a neutral third party source focusing on trade intelligence’s providers, people, data and business applications.   Trade intelligence provides the navigational map that helmsmen rely upon to navigate in a multi-trillion dollar industry.

PANGAEA-Logo

Panjiva: Bridging the Continental Divides Between Buyers and Sellers?

Panjiva is one of the new(er) Trade Intelligence Providers that have come on the scene in the last couple years. Founders Josh Green (Harvard Management guy) and James Psota (MIT Tech geek) launched their brainchild in 2009 juiced by angel and venture capital funding from Gerson Lehrman Group and Battery Ventures, respectively.

The company name is a derivative of “Pangaea” – a term referring to when (presumably) all of the world’s continents were joined together as a single super-continent. “The Panjiva team likes to think that we’re bringing the continents—or at least the people on them—closer together.”

Unlike other Trade Intelligence Providers, Panjiva currently focuses on one primary niche: Global Sourcing.  Their “intelligence platform” is designed to help domestic buyers connect with foreign sellers.

Specifically, as stated in their web promotion:

For Buyers:

  • Quickly develop short-lists of potential suppliers.
  • Conduct background checks on potential suppliers.
  • Keep tabs on competitors’ sourcing activities.
  • Keep tabs on existing suppliers.

And for Suppliers:

  • Get bigger customers.
  • Get more customers.

Their packaging looks slick with an intelligently designed web site, good press, and apt use of social media with blog, twitter, promotional video and web marketing. They’ve developed an affiliate program with a couple of impressive partners. Panjiva offers three convenient payment options: by the year for $999, by the month for $99 or by the click for $10 (why not $9.99?).  Perhaps, customers could also buy by the byte?

Word out on the streets is they are a very aggressive company and sometimes come across with a tad bit of arrogance. Heck, why not? They come well armed academically, technologically and financially, and seem to have successfully wiggled their way into a significant market niche within the trade intelligence space.

Waterborne data

Notwithstanding, for all the hoopla, Panjiva just slices and dices the very same data that is being offered by many a Trade Intelligence Provider – the daily DHS/ U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Shipping Manifest (bill of lading) feeds/CDs about which I have written (and will continue to write) many a post on this forum. This data is made publicly available through the freedom of information act by CDP (Customs and Border Protection) for $100 per day via monthly subscription or by special request.

Originally, Panjiva used to augment and enhance the bread-and-butter data received from Customs with additional value-added databases licensed from PIERS such as foreign supplier profiles, shipment/product valuations and waterborne export transactions. That was until the newly installed PIERS management team realized that they were feeding a tiger cub and sporting a voracious appetite at hunt on their turf for the tasty foreign sourcing market segment.

Now, Panjiva must rely upon their (Harvard) brains and (MIT) technology alone to survive within an increasingly predatory environment where there is massive proliferation of competing trade intelligence (?) providers offering search and reporting utilities against the same data for as little as 99 cents a day.

wacky einstein

Import Genius: On the Nature of Genius and Intelligence within Trade Intelligence

The last of the “Big Five” Trade Intelligence Suppliers, that we’ll take a cursory look at within the pack of those that fetch, rework and dole out U.S. Customs Waterborne import data, is Import Genius.

UBM Global Trade/PIERS is the undeniable alpha dog of the pack.  Datamyme, Zepol, Panjiva and Import Genius are all hungry, younger but now veteran TI providers who have successfully carved out market niches for themselves, although the fight for who will dominate the foreign sourcing space is ongoing.  Then there are another dozen newcomers, foreign and domestic, that jealously circle, hunting for market opportunities and usually competing on price alone.

Import Genius is one of the "Big Five" TI providers

Like their peers, Import Genius has a well designed website, makes good use of social media and offers a plethora of slick promotional materials. (PIERS, ironically, is the notable exception in those regards. A shortcoming I am sure won’t last long.)  Import Genius’ blog “Making Waves” is getting rather dated though, with the last entry at the time of this writing being 120 days old.  They offer several ways to taste their product through video, screenshots or interactive presentation.  They’ve generated a lot of press, to be sure. Of particular note, is the Spotlight Review by ImportExportBook.com.  You can also find them on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Import Genius Ingenious Logo

Import Genius, headquartered in Scottsdale and founded by brothers Ryan and David Petersen along with Michael Kanko, came on the scene in 2008 about the same time as their smart Cambridge cousin, Panjiva, hit the streets.  Unlike Panjiva, however, the Petersen clan had to bootstrap their start-up themselves. Like Panjiva and the rest of the “Big Five”, they offer their own brand of search, analytics and reporting utilities sitting atop of the usual U.S. Customs data.  In this regard, Import Genius doesn’t seem offer anything spectacular or noteworthy.

PIERS is currently the ONLY TI provider that integrates other trade related databases, statistical company profiles and export transactions successfully into the mix.  Particularly since PIERS’ acquisition of the innovative CenTradeX TI applications in 2010, they have significantly distanced themselves from any competitors in regards to sophistication and dimensionality.

Until Import Genius and the rest of the pack invests the financial, technical, intellectual and creative resources to expand and integrate other trade databases and develop comprehensive solutions for the world trade industry, PIERS will continue as the dominant player with all other contenders ultimately competing on price alone.  This is chiefly due to the fact that the underlying U.S. Customs data (that ALL the referenced companies base their products upon) is cheap and available, and off-the-shelf business intelligence software is becoming more robust and easier to deploy.

There yet remains vast undeveloped frontiers and opportunities to explore and claim in service to the multi-trillion dollar World Trade Industry for those with the GENIUS, resources and fortitude to pursue innovation within the field of Trade Intelligence.

ti365

TI Provider TradeInfo 365 Provides Transactional Trade Data for 10 Countries

In my recent net sweep of Trade Intelligence providers who offer U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of Lading) data, I seem to have missed what appears to be a pretty large fish, http://www.TradeInfo365.com.

Not surprising, several China based TI competitors have recently joined the ranks in an attempt to challenge PIERS, Datamyne, Zepol, Panjiva, Import Genius and the dozen or so newbies.  Unlike most, TI365 offers a whole lot more than just a simple off-the-shelf search and reporting utility sitting atop of U.S. Customs data.

TradeInfo365 integrates over 8,000,000 entries every month from 10 countries including both imports and exports. Unfortunately only four are in English: U.S., UK, Pakistan & Korea. Four others are in Spanish: Argentina, Chile, Peru & Columbia. Still, it is refreshing to see a TI provider go that extra mile in putting together a more comprehensive data collection.

What was of particular interest is that TI365 also offers China Trade Data.  They offer not only statistics but also transactional data on imports, importers, exports and exporters.  They also have credit information on some of these companies as well.  Check out their website for samples and details.

All said, TradeInfo365.com seems to be a company worth checking out.  Not coincidentally, their pricing strategy is identical to several state side TI Providers with subscriptions ranging from $99 to $399 per month. However, their subscription plan includes access to all 10 countries’ data, which is of particular benefit to those who can read English, Spanish, Ukrainian and Russian.  Unfortunately, the China data is sold separately.

They fall short of the trader specificity within the data collection that we (at CenTradeX) accumulated which logged virtually every import or export transaction for 6 years including detailed company contact information and value of shipment.  But, to my knowledge, there are presently no sources that can distribute such information in bulk legally.

Notwithstanding, cashing in on Trade Intelligence is a matter of sleuthing.  Like any detective you collect clues from as many sources as possible in order to build a convincing case.  If you depend upon one source, such as U.S. Customs data, you are likely to miss the whole story.  The genius is in building dimensionality by connecting the dots.  The more connections that are made the more defined the picture becomes.

The stakes are high: surviving and thriving in the $12 trillion dollar international trade market.  Information is one of the keys to success.

My vision for the WTD community.  It takes a village to grow a dream

WTD Backstory- Part 6: Seedling of Vision & Inspiration by the WTCA

My vision is to impact the world through innovation within the arena of International Trade by:

  • Leveling the playing field.
  • Providing free access to vital trade information and resources.
  • Developing new methods and venues to bridge the gap of understanding and application.
  • Creating a community: a forum of free exchange members.
  • Contributing my unique experience, talents and insights.

My vision, like a seed, begins with the development of this WTD community: the open source access to advanced technologies and vast data repositories. If it is to flourish, my vision must evolve by the intertwined visions of other kindred spirits. To expand, it needs to become a communal vision, a viral entity in and of itself. That is the nature and life cycle of a vision particularly a global one.

The abiding motto of the WTCA – World Trade Centers Association – pioneered by Guy Tozolli in the ‘70s is “Peace and Stability through Trade”. The premise is that people who do business with each other are less likely to go to war with each other.

I remember the first WTCA conference I attended in Bejing in 2006. I happened to sit at the same table as Mr. Tozolli. Also in attendance were representatives from China and Taiwan, Palestine and Israel, Iran and many of the Middle Eastern countries all gathered in a common forum to discuss ways to promote their common interests. It was a profoundly moving experience.

World Trade Centers Association founded by Guy Tozolli

We (CenTradeX) had started as a trade information vendor to several trade centers. Later, we were invited to become a preferred trade technology partner to the entire WTCA organization of 300 plus World Trade Centers. We eventually acquired a license to develop the Nashville World Trade Center. For our contribution and involvement in the formation of the WTCA foundation, designed to “give legs” to their famous motto, we became recipients of their inaugural Global Corporate Leadership Award.

As WTC representatives we were the first to conduct a trade mission to Palestine. We became very close to our host and new Arab friend. Our intent was to facilitate trade and educational exchanges between the U.S and Palestine. Notwithstanding, I had studied Hebrew in college. My first wife was Jewish. My daughter traveled to Israel the summer following our Palestine trade mission with her Jewish boyfriend, while my eldest son has become a dedicated Muslim and calls the prayers at the Mosque. My ex-wife was/is a fundamental Christian.  I’m a liberal. Life is complicated.

Then again, it’s easy. It’s about people, not politics. That’s why I love trade data. It has no prejudices. It loves those that love it. It benefits those who apply it without bias. It is can give insight and success to those who embrace its message and instruction.

The most treasured aspect of my relationship with the WTCA and its members was belonging to a global community. Getting to know Guy, the man who literally built the twin towers under the direction of the Rockefellers for the port authority. Guy often referred to us not as members but as his family; sometimes a dysfunctional family to be sure, but still a family.

My WTD virtual family. A growing, close knit community.

After all, what is a family but travelers who share a common journey, for a time… or those who share a strong common interest… or those who are thrown together by life circumstances… or people who become so obsessed by trade data and technology that they are force to read, write or even create a blog site about it all?

Ugly dog 1

WTD International Trade News of the Week. Pick of the Litter Series, vol. # 8

From globalEDGE: World’s Largest Companies: Forbes recently came out with a list of the 25 largest companies in the world. These are all large, multinational corporations that have an extreme impact on the global economy. Made in the USA: According to a new analysis by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), there is a “manufacturing renaissance” on the United States’ horizon.

News about BRICs: In economics, BRIC is a grouping acronym that refers to the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which are all deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development.

BRIC Countries: Brazil, Russia, India & China

Goldman Sachs has argued that, since the four BRIC countries are developing rapidly, by 2050 their combined economies could eclipse the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world. These four countries, combined, currently account for more than a quarter of the world’s land area and more than 40% of the world’s population. Read more about BRICS in this WIKI article.

From U.S. Trade and Development Agency: USTDA Announces New Business Partnership Activities for Africa at AGOA Forum  USTDA announced its commitment to support multiple programs that will facilitate broad economic development across sub-Saharan Africa.

From IFAT Fair Trade Newsfeed: Sustainable fashion design competition is now open for applications.  Are you a fashion designer or business owner striving to work to high ethical and eco standards?

From ERS/USDA: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Issued monthly, WASDE provides the most current USDA forecasts of U.S. and world supply-use balances for major grains, soybeans and products, and cotton, and U.S. supply and use data for sugar and livestock.  Livestock and Meat Trade Data The Livestock and Meat Trade Data Set contains monthly and annual data for imports and exports of live cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats, as well as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, chicken meat, turkey meat, and eggs. Meat Price Spreads: This data set provides monthly average price values, and the differences among those values, at the farm, wholesale, and retail stages of the production and marketing chain for selected cuts of beef, pork, and broilers.

New Tariff Tool

From U.S. Department of Commerce: Tariff Tool Demystifies U.S. Trade Agreements for Manufacturers. The FTA Tariff Tool has three functions: 1) A searchable database to find the tariff treatment of industrial goods covered under the U.S. FTAs. 2)  Market access reports and charts across industrial sectors or product groups.  3)  A snapshot of current tariff and trade trends under different U.S. FTAs.

star_attraction_poster-p2281029254406265567p1k_325

You and/ or Your Organization Can Be Featured On World Trade Daily

Would you like to be featured on WorldTradeDaily?

Are you involved in some aspect of international trade whether in the commercial, governmental or educational sector? Are you an importer, exporter, analyst, teacher, database engineer, trade representative, logistics provider, marketer, CEO, lawyer, regulator or journalist?  If so, we invite you to share your unique perspective and experience.

Each and everyday, WTD reports on international trade and trade intelligence: information used to make informed business decisions.

Trade Intelligence is comprised of many elements:

  • A plethora of types and kinds of DATA- the essential building blocks.
  • Technologies that refine, connect, enhance and present information- embodied by the many SUPPLIERS and their products & interfaces.
  • The USES of trade related information in sundry business applications in the service of international trade and traders.
  • PEOPLE: the IQ that makes Trade Intelligence work- professionals who are vitally involved in every facet of World Trade.
  • The context and environment within which trade intelligence is applied- i.e. trends, news and views that affect International trade.

Trade Professionals

As a trade professional, you have something to contribute. What particular products and services does your organization offer? What are the features and benefits?  In your capacity as a trade professional, what information do you use to find and service your clients? If none of these questions strike a cord, you may want to simply relay an interesting story from your personal experience working in the field of International Trade.

Your article(s) will be posted in one or more of the categories appearing on our site: Data, Suppliers, Uses, People, and World.  You are certain to accrue several benefits from the effort.  Check out: Contribute to the WTD community while (gently) Promoting your Product /Service.

In addition, we occasionally publish an In-depth series containing a handful of articles related to a particular data or service provider.  For example, subsequent to an interview with Lisa Wallerstein, Vice President of Product Development & Marketing for Datamyne, we developed a week’s worth of posts, addressing each of our respective categories, that were inspired by our discussion.  These are listed below:

Although all these articles were not confined to Datamyne, Lisa or their new product, they were indirectly related and together (hopefully) painted a bigger picture.  If you are interested, please contact us.

Artificial Intelligence Applied to International Trade Data? Or is it simply reversed engineered alien technology?

WTD Backstory- Part 5: Retained CenTradeX Core Technologies & Licenses

Even though the ultimate UBM/ PIERS purchase represented a fraction of the intrinsic worth of the CenTradeX technology (IMHO), the agreed upon list of itemized assets along with their valuation had been further marginalized by the fact that what we considered to be our most important technological assets, namely our unique A.I. (artificial intelligence) engine and vast data repositories of company, product and statistical information, was not on their shopping list. They had their own (newly revamped) databases and engine into which they had invested sizeable resources. In fact, the first order of the day for our (now their) tech folks was to “hook up” our (now their) web applications to their engine and databases.

CenTradeX Prospects acquired and now marketed by PIERS

Thus, PIERS ultimately acquired several CenTradeX web applications along with our “book of business and tech folks along with assorted code and documentation. Two web applications have been taken to market: StatsPlus and Prospects. An annual single user license runs around $20,000 each depending upon the particular options chosen.

As partial consideration, I retain the rights to 13 licenses of my (now their) software for five years: 13 licenses to StatsPlus, 13 licenses to Prospects and 13 licenses to Dashboards (which they have yet to bring to market). Said rights expire July 1, 2015.

Under the terms of that agreement, 12 licenses are eligible for redistribution. Redistribution being “employees (of Robert Thompson/Centradex), independent contractors and consultants (of Robert Thompson/Centradex), “clients of the licensee, for whom, from time to time, the licensee or his appointees are carrying out consulting or other commercial engagements”. Currently I have assigned 4. 2 which will expire June 30, 2011. The other 2 are set to expire a year later.

CenTradeX Stats Plus acquired and now marketed by PIERS

So, as a result, we retain several valuable resources: the core technology, A.I. Engine and Data repositories, upon which all our innovative web applications had been built and into which we invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars over a 10-year span as well as a dozen licenses to cutting-edge trade information technology. In addition, we were able to preserve another, though often overlooked asset (wink, wink)… me.

At any rate, it is my intention to use these powers, resources and assets for the good of humankind as long as I am able and before the chip (and licenses) expire and the A.I. engine rusts. I would like to offer “open source” access and utilization to all our resident data repositories and A.I. Engine… setting it free, but shepherding its’ growth and development. I would like to facilitate/catalyze the growth of a global community of those invested in trade information and technology by providing a forum of connection and exchange.

If you would like to help, let me know.

scary_dolls07

The Use and Application of Trade Intelligence Can Be a Matter of Life and Death

In 2007, in association with ECRM, Walmart and the Arkansas World Trade Center, CenTradeX undertook a massive study into the issue of tainted toy shipments imported into the United States from China. Widespread reports of acute sickness and death among children were causing panic.

Thorough analyses of the media coverage about the event revealed very little of substance.  A handful of major U.S. merchandisers were mentioned, mainly Mattel, as well as a couple of Chinese factories. That was it, period.

The issue of securing and maintaining product quality and safety is of vital significance whether we’re addressing cars, or toys or food.  It takes on deepening levels of complexity and importance when manufacturers and retailers rely on foreign sources. The underlying problems have to do with transparency, dependability and accountability.

U.S. retailers import trillions of dollars of merchandise from thousands of overseas factories. A vast majority of these foreign made products are carried to us on cargo ships, offloaded at coastal ports, processed through U.S. Customs, and distributed through our local merchants.

Who in this supply chain is responsible if something bad happens such as young children dying from ingesting paint off toys laden with toxic levels of lead? During the tainted toy fiasco initially China was blamed.  Then the CEO of Mattel stepped forward to take the fall. Media ultimately pointed to lax governmental regulations. Purportedly, several Chinese factory executives were summarily executed.  Who’s responsible?

Several years prior, an agricultural infestation spread from a Florida port causing billions of dollars of damage before it could be contained.  It took months to isolate the source and affect a remedy. The culprit ended up being diseased wooden pallets carrying imported consumables shipped by our Latin American neighbors. An early warning system may have mitigated the extent of the disaster.

By analyzing the daily Waterborne Import Shipment Data from U.S. Customs, China transactional import- export data, as well as other statistical and company databases, we (CenTradeX) analyzed over 400,000 toy shipments from China into the U.S. by 4,000 retailers spanning an 18-month period.

Through the data we discovered that the same Chinese factories that were pedaling tainted toys were also exporting other merchandise such as personal care items, household supplies and furniture.  Did these products contain dangerous levels of lead paint?  Did said factories continue to sell toys and other merchandise to their less regulated Asian neighbors?

Many of the answers can be found in publicly available data if one bothers to look.  Definitely some sleuthing is required.  Notwithstanding, look at the stakes involved.

At some point it may not just be a matter of tainted toys, radiated food or diseased pallets. Perhaps it will be a misclassified container of toxic chemicals or dangerous substances that makes its way past CBP and ends up causing a catastrophe in one of our major metropolitan areas.

Whether for matters of homeland security, food safety or quality assurance, much more can be done with trade intelligence to help us secure our health and our homeland.

top secret

International Trade Data Considered Confidential, Top Secret or Dangerous

During a presentation on trade data and application to a European convention of trade associations in Koln (Cologne) Germany, I exhibited the specific trading patterns and shipment details of several of their top exporters.  Amidst currents of grumbling and disquiet throughout the audience, one spokesperson finally stood up and screamed, “How are you allowed to obtain and publish such information [about our companies and] who will stop you!?”

U.S. Waterborne Shipment import data collected daily by CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) under the supervision of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and made available through the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) to the public by special request ($100 per daily DVD on a monthly subscription basis) reveals what many label as trade secrets about the particulars of international traders and their corresponding transactions.

There are times when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

US. Intelligence Community

Perhaps coincidentally, during the European convention, my stateside team was paid a surprise visit by an assemblage of well-dressed men representing “interested parties” within the U.S. intelligence community.  They had been monitoring extensive data flows from our Nashville office to a Beijing location of what appeared to be sensitive information.

Thus began our campaign to (quickly) educate the respective intelligence agents involved as to the particulars of the data that we were selling to our associate in China (data that was publicly available through their own DHS/U.S. Customs as well as other TI vendors like ourselves).  It was all rather terrifying.  Not because we were doing anything unlawful or out of the ordinary, but because, on some level, it didn’t matter that we were in the right if our business was temporarily shut down while investigations were being made. It would have the same detrimental financial effect whether we were “right or wrong”.

Having had prior dealings with China, Inc. as to trade data being considered governmental trade secrets and my recent experience during the European Trade Convention, I was spooked and sobered.   Obviously these folks took trade data seriously.

Ironically, much of my tenure at CenTradeX was spent in an effort to convince prospective clients of the relative merits of trade data.  I’ve spent my career trying to mine and communicate value to end users utilizing technology and graphics.  Despite my evangelistic zeal, by and large, most folks just don’t get it.  To them, trade data is about as interesting and as sexy as dirt.

Dollar General's Zero Budget to Improve Sourcing

I remember meeting with top procurement executives of Dollar General trying in vain to convince them to use trade intelligence to enhance their sourcing efforts.  Here’s a company that generated 8 billion dollars in annual revenues with conceivably half sent to overseas suppliers.  Their projected budget for data: ZERO.  Their projected budget for data analysts: ZERO.  The value they placed on trade intelligence: ZERO.

China Inc., the European trade community and the Intelligence Community don’t share that perspective. The right piece of intelligence aptly applied at the right moment has won wars.  Inversely, acting on wrong information has been catastrophic.

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ECRM is to the Sourcing World what Speed Dating & EHarmony is to the dating world.

Over the last 10 years, ECRM has developed a winning combination of technology, systems and people that match retailers with suppliers in a very dynamic, efficient way.  To liken them to a “trade show” is to compare the bar scene to a senior prom.

I met Charlie Bowles, founder/CEO during one of our WTCA (World Trade Center Association) conferences.  ECRM had worked with several Centers putting together matchmaking events for their member companies.  Mr. Bowles is one of those straight shooting, no-nonsense, street-smart visionary entrepreneurs who is a lot of fun to work with. You never have to wonder where you stand or what’s going on.

ECRM logo

ECRM & CenTradeX worked on a joint project to develop a database, vetting system and search/reporting engine on several industry “verticals” in their Marketgate online matchmaking interface. Toys, school supplies and packaging materials were the initial areas of build-out.

As part of the development process, we attended one of 50 plus three-day matchmaking events to witness their magic firsthand. ECRM contracts with luxury resort hotels to do a complete take over.  They book the entire facility.  Several floors of hotel rooms are transformed into mini-mart exhibit centers displaying respective sellers wares.

Dozens of bona fide buyers for a particular product group (for example: toys would bring in Mattel, Walmart, Toys-R-us, and the likes) are provided top-shelf accommodations FREE all expenses paid.  Sellers (suppliers) in turn pay an average of $10,000 for guaranteed, prequalified, technology enhanced “speed dates” with the prospective buyers taking in 30 to 40 individual face-to-face meetings with buyers during a single event.

Buyers attract Sellers, like bees to nectar or boys to beer.

Some have likened ECRM’s business model to nightclubs that provide free liquor to the ladies so as to attract swarms of paying male drinkers.

Prior to the event, a comprehensive evaluation of each seller and their merchandise is entered into the ECRM system.  Each participant, both buyer and seller, receives a tablet PC preloaded with all the necessary vitals and meeting schedule.

We witnessed the magic firsthand. Buyers strolling through a sellers display area and within minutes selecting items, deciding quantities, agreeing on terms and confirming delivery schedule. Everything was promptly scanned into the system, thereby creating confirmation and necessary documentation.

Within a 10- 15 minute span, a forthcoming year’s worth of merchandise was transacted, not just the endless chitchat and vendor banter characteristic of most trade shows.

We interviewed people involved in all aspects of the process: hotel staff, ECRM hospitality folks, tech engineers, management and marketing personnel as well as the suppliers and buyers themselves. For the most part, ECRM had worked out an excellent mix of data, technologies, systems, marketing and people.

ECRM got their initial boost from doing business with Walmart.  Thus far their success has been primarily limited to the retail products one would find at Walgreens or CVS.  They have struggled to find traction both in other industries (automotive, electronics, furniture) and outside the U.S. in foreign markets.

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Trade Data Analysis and Reporting: Profile on Trade Professional David Schneider

David Schneider is one of the few people I’ve ever met who knows and loves Trade Data as much or more than I.  We first met when he was employed by the State of Oklahoma as an analyst.  They, along with many other International Trade Offices, Trade Associations and World Trade Centers, were customers of CenTradeX.

In fact, David was the one who originally evaluated our product for purchase by Oklahoma. He knew the intricacies of data, he knew the suppliers (our competitors) and he knew the hard questions to ask.  Ultimately, we (rather our product) won him over and he became an enthusiastic advocate. Several years later, after a decade plus doing suit-and-tie government service, he decided to go independent.

Before of the Before and After Pictures

More comfortable and productive as a Beatnik Nuevo working out of a local coffee shop, donning earring, tee-shirt, jeans and a laptop, David generated high quality analyses and reports on various aspects of trade. Since he was now a free agent, we didn’t waste anytime grabbing him up as our Chief Analyst.  It was a good arrangement.  He retained his autonomy, worked virtually and set his own schedule while we obtained the services of a five star veteran trade professional.

His first project was sizeable.  It was during the tainted toy crisis of ‘07. Children’s playthings coated with toxic levels of lead based paint had been imported from China and distributed by major U.S. toy companies.  Reports of acute sickness and death among children were causing widespread panic and a flurry of stopgap measures.

CenTradeX, in association with ECRM, Walmart and the Arkansas World Trade Center, undertook a massive study into the issue. Utilizing the Waterborne Import Shipment Data from U.S. Customs, China transactional import-export data as well as other statistical and company databases we analyzed over 400,000 toy shipments exported from China into the U.S. by 4,000 retailers over an 18-month period.

China Report

Mr. Schneider, as Chief Analyst was ultimately responsible, under our direction, for the comprehensive in-depth report that resulted.  Sources at Walmart testified that it was “the best report of its kind they had ever seen”.  A New York Times business reporter (who ran the China beat) requested and used excerpts for stories he was writing.  Not a bad first project for David.

Thereafter, he cranked out product sourcing analyses, market research, global industry reports and state export studies as regular as clockwork. Unfortunately, the ultimate sale of CenTradeX assets in 2010 saw our business relationship come to an end.  I miss the comradeship and data jokes we used to exchange.  A sign of real geeks is when they revel in data humor.

I checked in on David a month or two ago. He freelances out of the same coffeehouse, teaches a class or two on international trade at his local college and still has a love affair going on with data.

Mr. Schneider represents another example that the transformation of data into intelligence is, was, and forever shall start and end with people not just technology.

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WTD International Trade News of the Week: Pick of the Litter Series, vol. # 7

From the U.S. DOC (Department of Commerce) come three posts: Protecting Our Electronic Main Street: Industry analysts now estimate that the Internet now carries some $10 trillion in online transactions annually.  An estimated 67,000 new malicious viruses, worms, spyware and other threats are released every day. Manufacturing is Vibrant and Vital in America: The United States is the world’s largest manufacturing economy employing nearly 12 million Americans in the production of $1.6 trillion in manufactured products, representing 18% of the world’s manufactured goods.  Acting Deputy Secretary Blank Emphasizes Success of U.S.-Canada Trade:  “The U.S.– Canada economic relationship is unparalleled in the world.  We are each others’ largest trading partners. Over $250 billion of direct investment comes from each country into the other.”

World Fair Trade Day

From the Good folks at World Fair Trade Organization come these two Posts:
  1. June 12 is World Day Against Child Labour: According to Unicef 16% of children (5-14 years old) in developing countries are engaged in child labour, and 29% in least developed countries.
  2. The Geo Fair Trade Final Conference and the 4th Fair Trade International Symposium will discuss: How can Fair Trade concretely connect producers and consumers, as well as other stakeholders, along fair and sustainable supply chains?

News from the Utah World Trade Center: Foreign Trade Increases in Five Emerging Countries and in G7.  G7 countries and the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa grew by 11% last quarter.

Good litter of articles from ITTSD this week

The ICTSD (International Centre for Trade And Sustainable Development) published a plethora of noteworthy articles this week. First off, here are several news items on recent Trade Policy & Negotiations:

Next is a summary of published papers;  If any of the following strike your fancy, check it out.

  • Globalization, brain drain and development.
  • Precautionary savings and global imbalances in world general equilibrium.
  • Shared value, shared responsibility.
  • The trans-pacific strategic economic partnership agreement: a Latin American perspective.
  • A pocket guide to sustainable development governance.

Lastly, ICTSD posted some interesting job and internship opportunities coming up in:

  • Global Policy Making
  • Agriculture Trade and Sustainable Development
  • Climate Change and Sustainability
  • Gender Issues
  • Performance Analytics and IT Support
  • Various Volunteer Positions with ICTSD

BEA: Bureau of Economic Analysis International Economic Accounts recently announced the release of final revisions to the 2010 U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services as well as the release of April trade figures. Some of the necessities of life: a good shower, combed hair and trade data with the knots and tangles removed. 

Do You Know the Requirements for Importing a Rough Diamond?  First person account of how it can be rough going to import ice into the U.S.

Africa’s Business Technology on the Rise.  Most African economies are known for their valuable commodities like oil, copper, and gas. But as of late, countries in Africa are adding a new focus to their economies with technology innovation.

Content is king and queen

World Trade Daily- Understanding WTD Perspective, Categories & Content

One of the best things about my new gig as the Editor-in-Chief of the WorldTradeDaily.com virtual forum on Trade Intelligence (a blog by any other name) is that I don’t have to be anybody’s _____. (You can fill in the blank.)

As Founder/CEO of CenTradeX as well as in the string of business ventures that preceded it, I had to worry about the feelings, opinions and perceptions of investors, boards of directors, advisors, clients, prospects, the media, employees (and their spouses) and of course the governing tax and legal authorities.

Being an Internet journalist, reporting on a subject that I know quite a bit about, is not only fun, but I can say whatever I want to. My editor (who also happens to be my girlfriend) hones down the rough edges and grammatical spills.  She occasionally steps in when my irreverence or sarcasm gets out of control.  But, by and large, I can state the “truth” as I see it.

Not to say that I am insensitive to the sensibilities of my friends and colleagues in the field about whom I report. Generally, I’m a great person to tell secrets to.  I’m not going to publish candid criticisms of your company, boss, clients or competitors.  Your dirty laundry is safe with me. That being said, I don’t mind ranting and raving occasionally when it strikes me.

There are a few things I have always really enjoyed about working in the International Trade field. No coincidence that these are also the categories I write about on WorldTradeDaily.com every week.  Monday through Friday are usually reserved for “meatier” topics:

World Trade Daily Posting Categories follow topics pertinent to International Trade Intelligence

@Data.  Like a kid in a candy store, I am really awed by facts and figures, charts and graphs, imports and exports of this country and that. Looking at the scope of the entire world. Global Trade data is cool!

•Technology and innovation.  Ways to shape, connect and transform raw data into something useful, beautiful and well engineered by those of us whose task it is to create Trade Intelligence is pure joy. I abhor ineptness and distain mediocrity. We report on Suppliers of trade data and information @Sources.

•Applications. Nothing feels better than see your brainchild perform well and be recognized in the world. Vicariously since the sale of CenTradeX, I still appreciate a well-crafted TI product providing good service in the marketplace. How is data and technology being applied to make a difference in business? @Uses.

•TI Professionals. I’ve never met a better bunch of people than those in International Trade. Prophets, philanthropists, innovators, well traveled, citizens of no certain country, committed to their craft, folks who really want to make a difference and an impact on their world.  Best known after a few drinks in an informal setting.  @People.

•Research & Learning.  Personally, I learn by live, dynamic interaction with people about subjects that I have an interest in.  Our “Pick of the Litter” series gives me a good excuse to be on the hunt for interesting stuff about International Trade being published by others. A way to feel connected to the World, hence @World.

•Weekends are more relaxed and personal.  They provide an opportunity to publish articles on topics that may not fit neatly into one of more of the above categories.  @WTD contains articles about the WorldTradeDaily.com site itself, just  like working around the house, mowing the lawn or retiling the bathroom on Saturdays.  @me, as the name implies, are articles about my personal/professional journey or stuff I just feel like talking about: “Op-Ed” pieces and the like.  It’s always good to indulge in creative license and diversity of taste and experience.

BOG-barney-lehrer-new

Musical Maestro Undergoes Midlife Renaissance to Become the Minister of International Trade Webworks

The World Trade Information business, like most professions, is as much about art as it is about science. It requires intuition and vision in addition to operation manuals and financial statements.

Barney Lehrer was a Juilliard-trained professional cellist, who performed all around the world, before making World Trade his vocation.  In 1990, relatively late in his life (but in the infancy of the internet), he left a successful musical career to get his MBA from the prestigious Thunderbird School of Global Management.  Thereafter, following a short stint with a trading company in New York, he joined FITA (Federation of International Trade Associations) to develop their website.

In the Wild, Wild West of the World Wide Web back in those early pioneer days, there weren’t a lot of guidebooks and gurus to tell you how it was supposed to be done.  Therefore, Mr. Lehrer invented it as he went, and became a self–taught maestro in the many facets of website development. Now, some twenty years later, FITA (http://www.fita.org) is a recognized staple for trade information.  Approximately 100,000 visitors frequent his web site every month:

  • Searching for advise on how to start an import -export business.
  • Looking for a job in the international trade industry.
  • Hunting for merchandise trade leads, where/who to buy from or sell to.
  • Fetching background information on a particular industry or country.

The FITA website and newsletter (Really Useful Sites) was sold to the Paris based company, Export Enterprises, three years ago.  Since the sale, Mr. Lehrer not only continues to shepherd the FITA as Vice-President, but also has been charged with directing content development and U.S. operations for EE’s new enterprise, GlobalTrade.net, launched November 2010.

Global Trade Net

Barney Lehrer is a man of vision.  In our recent interview, he remarked that the next important trend in international trade information would be in and about social media; hence the focus of GlobalTrade.net.  Creating transparency and interactivity within the global trading community is not easy.  But the need is there.

Vetting prospective service providers, foreign manufacturers or potential buyers is vital.  Can technology really help bridge the trust and accountability gaps?  Apparently, many companies have tried and failed to establish methods to adequately validate potential foreign suppliers.  Alibaba’s recent “Trust Pass” scandal further testifies to the difficulties involved.

Thus Barney Lehrer undertakes, through GlobalTrade.net, to begin the bridge building task.  GlobalTrade.net attempts to provide users background information on specific industries in specific countries through 15,000 reports obtained from their various global government partnerships. Then, through their network of 12,000 service providers, GlobalTrade.net tries to bring trading parties separated by miles, languages and customs a little closer to THE DEAL.

Still in its infancy, investors and sponsors are called upon to provide the necessary financial undergirding.  It is hoped that upon reaching critical mass, the “pay-per-lead” revenues (resulting from the matchmaking process) will sustain and prosper the enterprise.  In the end, the best way to establish trust and validate a potential supplier, as Mr. Lehrer attests, is “to get a plane and meet face to face.”

Notwithstanding, the Maestro will certainly bring his best to the task of bringing all the players together within GlobalTrade.net in an effort to provide greater harmony, synchronization and facilitation within the arena of global trade.  To that end, we wish him well.

China

Chinese Transactional Import-Export Data Considered “Trade Secrets” by China Inc.

Deng Xioaping, the late, great leader and reformer, is credited with the catchphrase, “To get rich is glorious”, an anthem that unleashed a wave of personal entrepreneurship that continues to drive China’s economy today.

In a previous life (prior to CenTradeX), while managing a small offshore investment fund focused on the Greater China region, I got to tag along with a gaggle of prestigious fund managers from around the world as they interviewed most of the 26 listed publicly trade companies on the newly established Shenzhen and Shanghai stock exchanges.  The early 90’s were the Wild, Wild West of social capitalism in China.  At the time, already a million millionaires had emerged from within the behemoth Dragon.  Transparency and accountability were major issues then for the infant stock markets, as they are now within the foreign sourcing realm.

To Get Rich is Glorious. It's the winding road to wealth that can be tricky

Through a unique partnership with a Trade Intelligence company located in Beijing, CenTradeX was able to apprehend several years of transactional customs data translated into English.  This terabit of information detailed each and every import and export transaction by every Chinese company of every product bought or sold from 2000 through 2006.  Included in the detail were the:

  • 8 digit HS code identifier and product description.
  • Company name, address, phone, unique ID (like our EIN #), personal contact.
  • Dollar value and number of units shipped (thus deriving price per item).
  • Supply chain routing information such as port, customs district, method of transport.

Essentially, the data represented the “Holy Grail” of Trade Intelligence on perhaps the most important emerging economy on the planet.   However, as the years went on, our partner had increasing difficulty legitimately acquiring the information.  Since our commercialization of the data depended upon its guaranteed and continual flow, we refrained from distribution.  Furthermore, after hearing a few scary and very sobering stories, we decided to try direct official government channels.

Working through a well-placed government intermediary we were told that some trade data were considered “trade secrets” by China, Inc.  What in particular couldn’t be defined or foretold in advance.  Essentially it would all depend upon the perceptions of a cadre of folks which would be subject to change.  It was further advised, that unless we wanted to risk a potential raid and shutdown of our prospective business operations, we’d best refrain.

The moral of the story is that information is power.  Trade Intelligence is the power to know and make informed trade decisions.  Trade Data is the brick and mortar of trade intelligence.  Such data holds many secrets; secrets considered dangerous by some.  TI providers utilize their technological powers to mine and unlock these secrets.  Ultimately, veteran trade professionals must employ their particular alchemy of resources to make trade magic happen.

Footnote: To my knowledge, currently there are no sources where China Transactional Data is available in bulk.   Small, custom requests can be submitted to the Chinese Government. Some companies offer statistical components of the data for a particular product /industry (minus company information), for a small fee.  InfoDriveIndia.com offers historical and comprehensive trading profiles on a piecemeal basis.  Check out our downloadable charts and diagrams (located on the sidebar) for more information.

middlemen2

Direct Sourcing; Weighing Cost Savings Against Increased Risk and Hassle

Several years ago, CenTradeX was called upon to help Disney’s theme parks division, headquartered in Orlando, to explore direct sourcing.  They were spending several hundred million dollars every year purchasing branded merchandise from overseas (mostly China) manufacturers through middlemen.

This is a typical arrangement for most U.S. importers because said middlemen are veterans at smoothing and straightening the road in the supply chain management process.  They have established relationships with factories (or rather with other middlemen who have relationships with factories). They are experts at logistics: carriers, routes, costs, documentation, etc. and where to grease the wheels in the machinery of global sourcing to keep things running efficiently.

A plethora of financial pressures were shrinking Disney’s margins. Theme park visitors were less willing to fork over their Benjamins for overpriced Mickies and Minnies.  A brilliant recent hire from MIT had engineered a plan to save 15%-20% by going direct.  She was looking for a way to sell the idea to upper management.  You would think an annual savings of 30-40 million dollars wouldn’t be a hard sell, but it was.

Eliminating the Middlemen

Change doesn’t come easy within a big corporation. The veteran sourcing guys in Disney were used to making a couple trips to Hong Kong every year staying in luxury hotels, being wined and dined and entertained by an entourage of middlemen.  They really didn’t have to do much heavy lifting.  The lady from MIT was making waves and coming up against a lot of resistance.

As a test, we did a sourcing analysis utilizing several data sources, including the much referred to U.S. Waterborne import (Bill of Lading) manifest data collected from U.S. Customs.  In particular, we identified the factories that these middlemen were sourcing from as well as other customers (U.S. Importers) that the foreign factories were shipping to, in what amounts and frequencies as well as other supply chain particulars.

This type of information is only the beginning of a process to vet prospective suppliers. Notwithstanding, much can be gleaned from the data, and it provides a great starting point.  She hired an associate and friend of ours, an alumnus of our Nashville Universities: Belmont and Vanderbilt. The guy was a street smart, hard-working veteran of foreign sourcing.  He made handfuls of solo reconnaissance trips to China, staying in cheap hotels, eating local fare, traveling dusty pock strewn roads to out of the way factories to get face-to-face with prospective suppliers.  It’s really the only way to get things done.

Direct sourcing is not the right solution for every company.  Even Walmart, the largest sourcing entity in the world, has taken their time making the transition.  Considering they could net a potential savings of $20 – $60 billion a year, you’ve got to figure there are good reasons behind their caution.

For the daring and the desperate, however, direct sourcing can translate into greater profits by eliminating middlemen and significantly reducing the cost-of-goods.   Trade Intelligence is the place to start.  Otherwise, you’re likely to waste all your ammunition shooting blind or from the hip, and have your direct sourcing efforts blow up in your face.

Footnote: If you’re a manufacturer, now you can become a direct supplier to Disney without depending upon middlemen to connect you.  Apply HERE.  I guess we know who ultimately won the argument.  No more Mickey Mousing going around at Disney.

ZEPOL

Evolving from Hungry Rogue Start-up to the Global Trade Intelligencia Elite: the Story of Zepol

Zepol is a trade intelligence provider created by two bright young lads from Minnesota a handful of years ago.  Back then, PIERS, for all intents and purposes, was the only game in town. They pretty much owned the market for U.S. Customs Manifest (Bill of Lading) data.  At the time, PIER’S interface was clumsy and antiquated, their products overpriced and their customer service negligible.  At least according to the string of disgruntled current or previous customers we encountered.

Zepol evolved and adapted

Founders, Paul Rasmussen and Jeff Wilson, neither of which had any professional background in trade, had a simple business plan: create a cleaner, more efficient search utility and undercut PIERS price by 20%.  They weren’t concerned with integrating other databases, added frills, or transforming the way people did global trade.  They simply wanted to woo business away from PIERS.  Typical to many start-up technology businesses, one guy (Paul) was the Marketer/Spokesman while his compadre was the Tech Geek (Jeff).

For the first couple years, they were disregarded as a pesky nuisance by the powers that be.  PIERS lost a few customers here and there.  Usually the story included a bidding war between PIERS and Zepol, wherein Zepol would ultimately win after several painful rounds of negotiation, particularly in the commercial side of the business.

Zepol kept evolving

Now-a-days, Zepol is not just two lone wolves, it’s a pack of twenty men and women equally divided between sales, technology and customer service.  Whereas they used to be considered a rouge company, now they are part of the establishment.  Their technology has continued to improve, their customer base grown in depth and breath and their various ways and means of telling their story has expanded.   For instance, their use of social media is exemplary in the industry, using blog, tweets, videos, promotional materials, downloadable report samples, internet advertising, etc. to get the word out.

At CenTradeX we once threatened to sue them for buying Google ads attached to our trademarked name; a practice that they repeated with other TI providers as well.  Anytime someone searched for CenTradeX, PIERS or Datamyne, as well as a host of trade related terms, Zepol Ads would be highlighted atop of the results with a competitive message.  Perhaps not Kosher but certainly cunning and aggressive.

Zepol transformed itself from being a Rogue to an established member of the TI Provider Heirarchy

Ironically, Zepol NOW faces the same challenge as they originally posed to PIERS THEN.  In the last several years, information providers selling U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of lading) data have proliferated.  There are now well over a dozen.  Cost of access is plummeting.  Whereas several TI Providers have been offering subscriptions at $99 per month, my latest research revealed two new ones on the scene; one with pricing at $49 per month and the other at $30.10.

Being accepted as a member of the establishment comes with a price.  Developing value-added features, expanding technology, improving customer service, and acquiring more personnel all accrue overhead.  Business strategy and tactics must adapt to the changing competitive milieu.

Will the burgeoning of competitors with the accompanying commoditization of data and tumbling subscription prices win out over the inverse force currently employed by PIERS and others to position themselves as “Solutions Providers”?  The next few years will tell the story.

CenTradeX Core Tech Team

WTD Backstory- Part 4; Acquisition of CenTradeX by UBM Global Trade/ PIERS

One of the most successful and exciting aspects of CenTradeX was our core team. In my 30 years as an entrepreneur, they represented the most creative, talented, loyal, integrity-stamped people I had ever worked with. Therefore, we worked out a custom version of an employee purchase agreement wherein they would be highly incentivized to manage and grow the company together.

I served as coach–mentor to the CenTradeX team through a difficult 2009, which saw international trade activity plummet. Despite the best efforts, ingenuity and diligence of the newly established management and sales team, sales continued to plummet. We had generated twice the revenue during the first 9 months of 2008 as in the 18-month period thereafter.

As a person who believes strongly in independence and delegation, I wanted to let the team have every opportunity to make a go of it. Furthermore, I find it impossible in life to go “backwards”. Finally though, as insolvency was knocking strongly at the door, I had to step in and take the reins back. Although revenues had continued to shrink, corresponding liabilities and debts had not.

We began the (too long postponed) process involving severe cut backs–both to personnel and overhead-while developing a business plan and proposal to acquire an equity investor(s), joint venture partner or suitable buyer. Of course by then our valuation, once calculated in 8 digits (not counting the decimals) was struggling to bring 6 or 7 in real cash dollars.

Serendipitously, days before we intended to “push the button” on our intentions, we were contacted by representatives of UBM Global Trade/PIERS. Thus began a 120-day due diligence process that resulted in their acquisition of certain assets on May 5, 2010, namely our slick applications along with the underlying technology that made the magic work. In addition, they acquired certain “soft” assets, namely all our core tech crew and even one of our marketing/sales folks to boot.

UBM Global Trade /PIERS acquired certain CenTradeX assets in May, 2010

To their credit, the UBM Global executives I dealt with were impressive. They had been quietly revamping their entire I.T. infrastructure for sometime. Unlike the previous PIERS management team I had dealt with for years, they were forward thinking and decisive with a refreshing absence of guile. Straight shooters. Although I certainly would have liked to get a better deal, overall I have no complaints. Most of the time.

I’m happy the core CenTradeX team found lucrative employ with a Global Trade & Technology supplier with the financial muscle, organizational infrastructure and sales force to maximize the potential of the products we developed together. I believe UBM Global Trade /PIERS is positioned to become the undisputed leader in international trade information and technology. I am biased though, so consider the source.

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WTD International Trade News of the Week. Pick of the Litter Series, vol. # 6

First, here’s a couple of strays that don’t directly relate to international trade but are interesting none the less.

  • U.S. Government YouTube Channel.The federal government’s YouTube channel features videos on careers with the government, food safety, interviews aboard a space shuttle, and much more.  It might not get 180,000,000 views like Evolution of Dance – By Judson Laipply, but it’s a start.  
  • HowTo.gov — Helping Agencies Deliver a Great Customer Experience New Executive Order on Customer Service.  I never thought I’d be asking advice on “how to blog” or “what cloud hosting is” from the government, but the “times they are a changin”.

From Utah World Trade Center: Global Utah Weekly.  Creating Jobs Through Trade and Innovation. A video that discusses President Obama’s Export Initiative to double exports (and in so doing create 2 million jobs) in the next five years.  I’m really impressed by the initiatives undertaken by Lew Cramer and his excellent staff at the Utah WTC.  

From New Orleans World Trade Center – Le Centre International de Lafayette Receives President’s “E” Award for Service in Exporting. Le Centre International de Lafayette of Lafayette, Louisiana is the official international trade division of the City/Parish Government of Lafayette, and provides services to area businesses interested in international trade. Congratulations to my good friends at WTC -NO and the Folks in Lafayette.  

I'm unsure what the appropriate Harmonized Code is for Square Melons. Anyone know?

From USDA-ERS: Vegetables and Melons Outlook: This data product provides users with comprehensive statistics on fresh and processed vegetables in the United States, as well as global production and trade data for these sectors. If you’re interested in keeping up with melons and vegetables.

From OECD: Green and growth go together: “Governments should put in place policies that tap into the innovation, investment and entrepreneurship driving the shift towards a greener economy.”  Great concept: Go green & make green.

From Global Edge Blog: The Art of Online Shopping in Russia. More than 80 percent of transactions at Russian online megastores are in cash. Russian customers are not very comfortable with online transactions.  There’s a surprise. 

From Datamyne Blog: Trade Beef: US cattleman urges action on FTAs as competitors vie for overseas markets. In FY 2010, US farm product exports neared a total of $109 billion; the AG trade surplus was almost $34 billion. Where’s the Beef?

From PIERS Blog: Wal-Mart and American Chung Nam Hold On to #1 Rankings on JOC List. As the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart imported 696,000 20-foot equivalent units last year, up from 684,000 TEUs in 2009.  PIERS decided to weigh into the social media world by launching its own blog and populating it with a handful of initial posts… Welcome to the conversation! 

From the International Trade Administration: World Trade Month Video. The International Trade Administration (ITA) joined the world in celebrating World Trade Month during the month of May.  “There is a new and growing middle class expanding around the globe, more than one billion new consumers will emerge during the next 15 years.”  Maybe a World Trade YEAR would be good. 

From Penny Hill Press: U.S. International Trade: Trends and Forecasts.  In 2010, the trade deficit in goods reached $646.5 billion.  Despite increasing debts in 2010, the United States ran a surplus of $163 billion in investment income with the rest of the world. With China, however, there was a deficit of $37 billion and with Japan $33 billion.  Lose money but make it up in volume. 

From International Economic Law and Policy Blog: EU imposing both anti-dumping and countervailing duties ranging from 4% to 12%, on Chinese coated fine paper, which is used for high-quality printing such as brochures and magazines.  The Chinese were not happy with this. “Free trade” is only lauded when it benefits the lauder.  

At the tail end of this post, news from compliance and anti-corruption folks: bow wow

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World Trade Daily – Month in Review: Selected Articles Published in May 2011.

WorldTradeDaily (WTD) was launched on May 1, 2011 only a month ago.  As the name implies, it has been our intent to provide our readers with the “news, views and who’s who in Trade Intelligence” on a daily basis.  So far so good. We started out with a couple handfuls of readers a day and now we’re up to a couple hundred views.

For those who are just dropping in now, I thought it would be good to point out some of the more “meaty” articles we’ve published over the last month.  Being somewhat of a data geek, my selections are skewed in that direction.  I’ve always been enthralled by remarkable treasures that can be mined from seemingly base, raw trade data. I’ve spent a career (over the last decade) developing tools to unearth and refine it and taking any opportunity I get to proclaim its value and usefulness.

Trade Intelligence Starts with People

The two posts on the nature of trade intelligence are a good place to start. TI: “Trade Intelligence”, Part 1. The Genius behind Trade Intelligence is in the Question and TI: Trade Intelligence, Part 2. Questions Lead to Processes Lead to Answers Lead to Cash?  I’ve always interacted with my world by asking questions, which drives my friends crazy sometimes.  To me the basis of learning is questions.  Trade Intelligence is about translating questions into profitable application.

One of the most valuable sources of data is the U.S. Customs (DHS) Waterborne Import Manifest (Bill of Lading) Data. It tracks each and every shipment (import) into the U.S. on a daily basis and contains transactional detail on the foreign shipper, U.S. importer, products purchased and logistics involved in transporting the goods.  The post entitled TI Transformation; Data into Information into Knowledge into Intelligence into Application briefly outlines the history and suppliers of this data. U.S. Customs Waterborne Import Data: Perspective is Everything takes a satirical look at the need for innovation and perspective. While Under the Hood: U.S. Customs (AMS) Waterborne Shipping Manifest (BOL) Import Data breaks down the specifics of what can be found within the data.

Two primary vendors feature the above referenced data integrated with other company, statistical and referential datasets; namely PIERS and Datamyne.  In the post entitled, PIERS Prospects™ – Prospecting For International Buyers and Sellers we look at UBM Global Trade/PIERS’ latest product that uses Bill of Lading data along with a geo-mapping tool to help companies prospect for new clients. Datamyne recently announced their latest addition to the trade intelligence field, which you can read about in Datamyne Launches Their New Trade Intelligence User Interface- Datamyne 2.0    Many U.S. importers use this data to identify prospective foreign sources for raw materials or components as reflected in the post, Manufacturers Use Trade Intelligence to Identify Sources of Materials and Components

Getting back to basics however, the language of international trade is the Harmonized System (HS) within which all products bought or sold are uniformly classified.  Any would be importer or exporter must begin there.  Understanding the Harmonized TARIFF System and Proper Classification of Products for Import-Export.  The primary source for U.S. trade flow statistics is the U.S. Census Bureau, who slice and dice and offer the data in many ways. U.S. Census Bureau – Division of Foreign Trade (USCB-FT) Offers Many Statistical Products.  The United Nations provides global trade flow statistics for 200 countries, which you can learn about in this post.

Trade Statistics are a staple of trade intelligence applications. This post on Using Trade Flow Statistics for Market Research may give you some ideas.  If you need help finding the best markets for your products overseas, your local USEAC may be the place to turn.  Great news! SMEs get export ABCs at the DOC ITA’s local CS’s branch of the EAC… that is IF you can find your way thru the Labyrinth of Acronyms.  However, if you’re looking for the consummate TI product that integrates Trade Flow Statistics with other databases and provides intelligent tools and graphic reports, you should check out PIERS StatsPlus™ Attempts to Transform Trade Statistics Into Intelligence.

Stay connected to the latest news about Trade Intelligence

Well, those are a few of my favorites for the month.  If you want to stay current with new articles or on a particular topic or category such as TI Data or TI Suppliers /Products, you may want to fetch new articles automatically through our RSS feeds or follow us on Twitter. Stay Smart about Trade Intelligence using WTD RSS Feeds, E-mail Subscription, Twitter & LinkedIN.

We end the remembrance of May WorldTradeDaily posts with our Memorial Day article featuring several videos which may capture the sentiments of those who have lost loved ones to war or simply desire to see greater global connectedness.