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Export Potential

What is export potential and why is it important for my business?

Export potential refers to the likelihood that a company’s product or service can be successfully sold abroad. 

Businesses usually identify the export potential of their products and services by analyzing: 

  • customer profiles; 
  • possible product or service modifications; 
  • transportation, shipping, and logistics; 
  • local representation in overseas markets; 
  • exporting services; and 
  • business development capacities. 

Forecasting models are also used based on information like the export market’s economic outlook as well as current trade volumes and conditions. Analysing these areas enables businesses to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their targeted overseas markets and to determine whether and why an export has the potential to succeed abroad. 

For tools that can help you analyse your export potential, see the United States International Trade Administration’s (U.S. ITA’s) web page on export potential, the United States Small Business Association Export Business Planner and the Government of Canada’s Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting.      

How do I determine my business’ export potential? 

There are two practical ways to assess the export potential of companies’ products and services in overseas markets. First, if you are already selling successfully in your domestic market, finding an overseas market with similar characteristics is a way to target export sales. The second way is to assess the unique features that make your product or service different from those found abroad and therefore desirable in a foreign market. The U.S. ITA has created a useful export guide for small businesses called A Basic Guide to Exporting.

How do I select my target markets? 

Online trade statistics provide an overview market picture of target countries. They can show if target countries are already importing the products or services that companies are intending to export. They also indicate countries sourcing imports and supply levels in target countries. One resource for identifying target markets is the European Commission’s Guide for export of goods

How do I find potential buyers? 

The next step after identifying a target market is to find and connect with potential trade partners and business contacts. To do so, businesses can participate in trade fairs where buyers and sellers meet to explore business opportunities across sectors, research online to find potential markets, and use contacts or word of mouth. Attending events hosted by business support organizations that seek to explore export opportunities for domestic companies is another option. 

One resource from the U.S. ITA is their website on how to find buyers and partners. There is also an increasing number of online platforms that connect buyers and sellers. Beyond the well-known global e-commerce marketplaces like Alibaba and Amazon, a simple internet search is often enough to identify specialized online marketplaces (see our guide on selling abroad online).

Where should I start? 

The International Trade Centre offers a free tool known as the Export Potential Map. This online tool uses a quantitative model that takes into account global market shares, relative market access conditions like preferential tariffs, the relative strength of bilateral trade relationships, and distance and demand. The latter is combined with a forward-looking forecast using estimates from the IMF World Economic Outlook for the next five years to create estimates of export potential. This model helps businesses identify products and markets with room for additional export growth and opportunities for export diversification for 226 countries and territories for 4,376 products. It enables businesses to do quick scans of target markets for products at the 6-digit HS code level (see guide on how to read HS codes). Various types of searches can be performed, including by country (to see what products have the greatest export potential from that domestic market and which markets have the most potential for a specific export product). The International Trade Centre’s Export Potential Map allows for finding attractive markets and likely export performance for a chosen product using its HS code. Google’s Market Finder training is another free resource to explore domestic and international markets.