Seeking a wider market for your product or service? You don't have to look too far from home. "Any exporter should consider Canada a first stop," says Linda Archer, Toronto representative of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in Canada.
Many do. Canada is the United States' largest trading partner, with $154.2 billion in 1998 exports and $175 billion in imports. No doubt these figures were boosted by NAFTA's phase-out of trade tariffs in 1998, eliminating customs duties for U.S. entrepreneurs exporting to Canada.
While similarities between the countries are a natural advantage, it's important not to overlook the differences. "If your product sells well in the U.S., [that's no guarantee] it'll sell well in Canada," says Archer. "You have to know whether Canadians import widgets or manufacture their own. And, if they do import widgets, are they from the U.S. or somewhere else?"
Another crucial step, says Archer, is determining "whether [your target market] even exists in Canada."
Fortunately, there's no shortage of information on Canadian businesses. The U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service in Canada works primarily with small and midsized businesses, helping them find contacts, attend trade shows, set up business meetings with prospective buyers, learn the culture and understand the regulations and paperwork involved in shipping products across the border.
Moira Allen is a freelance writer in Mountain View, California, and editor of Global Writers' Ink, an electronic newsletter for international writers.