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Lower Trade Barriers Sought for Small Online Sellers

October 24, 2012

A new report released on Wednesday by the Internet firm eBay found that 97 percent of its sellers export their products to another country. Despite their sellers' success in reaching new global markets, eBay urged policymakers to take steps that would help lower obstacles to international e-commerce.

Using data gathered from the thousands of sellers on the Internet auction and marketplace site, eBay's study found 80 percent of those who said they export products do business in five or more countries. And many of eBay's sellers have one or just a few employees, said eBay Director of Global Fulfillment Mark Mastandrea at a panel discussion on the report.

"Technology and the Internet are helping to break down trade barriers and are revolutionizing how people buy and sell," he said.

The study found that the Internet has made it easier to reach customers abroad by reducing the costs and difficulty of advertising, communicating with customers, and collecting payments. However, challenges remain in actually moving products across borders, said Brian Bieron, eBay's senior director of federal government relations.

At the event, eBay and other industry officials argued that the current trade regime is not designed to support small sellers like the ones that utilize eBay and other Internet platforms to reach customers. Given this, eBay is pushing policymakers to make several changes that would make international trade easier for "micro" sellers. They include reducing the customs challenges for smaller sellers by increasing the "de minimis" threshold, which is the value of goods that can enter a country duty free, and creating trusted trader programs for smaller sellers between the United States and other countries.

"It's a regime built to support giant businesses," Bieron said.

Ralph Carter, managing director of legal, trade and international affairs for FedEx Express, said the "amount of time and money we spend on collecting duties" often outweighs the duties themselves.

Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill in September that would raise the de minimis value of goods that can enter the United States free of tariffs and taxes from $200 to $800. Reps. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., have introduced similar legislation in the House that would raise the level to $1,000.

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