By Cynthia E. Griffin

Just when small businesses are venturing into the waters of international trade in ever greater numbers, big banks are slowly easing out of the financing side of international business, leaving a growing hole in the market. In California, one smaller bank is stepping into the breach.

"We specialize in trade financing and offer lines of credit of up to $10 million," says David Wong of the Pacific Bank's Los Angeles branch. "We target companies with sales ranging from $1 million to $50 million, but we cater especially to small business."

The Pacific Bank, which works almost exclusively in California, helps with letters of credit for existing and start-up companies whose principals have prior experience in an industry. The bank will also help facilitate production once there is a confirmed letter of credit and a purchase order.

Wong offers a few tips for getting bank financing:


* Talk with your attorney or CPA to find banks that might be good trade finance partners.


* Look for a bank and loan officer with at least two to three years' experience in trade finance. Also make sure the person is knowledgeable about programs (government and private) available to help you import and export.


* Seek an institution that targets importing and exporting in general, not just one segment of the market.


* Choose a bank big enough to have an international department but small enough to truly want your business. Banks without international departments may offer to act as your correspondent with an international bank, but keep in mind this simply adds another layer of people you have to work with.


* Finally, if you only handle one transaction a year worth under $5,000, don't look for trade financing. It's not cost-efficient unless you have multiple deals of this size.