Los Angeles business owners and service providers gathered inside the USC Galen Center Founders' Club on Wednesday for the launch of Mayor Eric Garcetti's export program, "Taking L.A. to the World."
The purpose of the export program is to bring awareness of overseas opportunities and inform hesitant business owners of resources available to ease the global expansion process.
"Our port and airport do so much international trade," said Eric Eide, the mayor's director of international trade. "So much of that trade is coming in and not enough is going out."
According to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and U.S. International Trade Administration, 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside of the United States, but only 1 percent of all U.S. companies export.
The North America Ports & Logistics Annual Report shows Los Angeles as the No. 1 container port by volume in the United States. L.A. also continues to lead the nation every year in imports and ranks No. 1 in total trade with China.
Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute, said during a panel discussion that a business doesn't have to be a brand name to sell goods overseas.
"People have an appetite for goods made in the U.S.," Klowden said. China and Hong Kong "do not have the capacity domestically to produce the kinds of goods their consumers want, so they're looking for goods outside of their home countries."
But for some small businesses, the process of international trade can be intimidating.
"There are not only a lot of rules to follow, but also a lot of pitfalls," said Patty Schmucker, co-founder of American Made Beauty. "In the U.S., the [Food and Drug Administration] has all sorts of regulations about the way a product is built.… Those rules are required to market here in the U.S., but we don't have to prove that we've done them. In order for a company to import a product into other countries, you have to prove that you've done all those things."
Nick Vyas, assistant professor of clinical data sciences and operations at the USC Marshall School of Business, echoed the challenges small to mid-size companies may face when considering expanding into the global market.
"There is a huge risk in a country … where they don't know the culture. They don't know the business, the requirements of doing business in that country," Vyas said via Skype from China, where he is speaking on the global supply chain outlook.
Mayor Garcetti plans to host similar program events every quarter and advise businesses through seminars and workshops. He also intends to take companies abroad regularly on trade tours.
"We are committed to getting the word out," Garcetti said. "We want to fill these gaps and unlock the global potential of LA businesses."
On a national scale, trade has been a major topic in the presidential campaign with candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debating over trade pacts.
"The myth of trade agreements has infected our political process and presidential debates," said Klowden of the Milken Institute. "We have got to move toward pragmatism."
Clinton, however, has acknowledged the importance of trade.
"We are 5 percent of the world's population; we have to trade with the other 95 percent," Clinton said during her first debate with Trump. "We need to have smart, fair trade deals."
Foreign policy and the economy are among the topics the candidates will address again in the third and final debate Wednesday evening.