eBay and U.S. Dept of Commerce partner to help small businesses

February 26, 2014: 3:11 PM ET

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker tells Fortune how a new alliance with the tech company could help beef up exports and job creation.

Caption TK  Photo: eBay

"What this [partnership] will do is increase awareness about the benefits of trade and help us address challenges small businesses are facing," says U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. Photo: eBay

FORTUNE – Last year, the United States exported $2.3 trillion in goods and services -- an annual record. But according to U.S Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, that figure could be significantly higher if legislation was more mindful of small businesses.

This Tuesday, Pritzker signed a partnership with eBay (EBAY) at the company's San Jose, Calif.-based headquarters. The partnership, which ends in December, will bring eBay and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) together to work on adapting existing legislation and drafting new proposals aimed at helping small businesses overcome current challenges around exporting and cross-border trade. According to Secretary Pritzker, eBay seemed an ideal partner to work with given the company enabled $45 billion-plus in trade last year alone, driven largely by the same small businesses the Obama administration is targeting. Echoes eBay CEO John Donahoe: "People usually assume it's the big companies doing international trade, but that's not always the case."

Small businesses face a number of export challenges large conglomerates can more easily shrug off because of larger staffs and finances. Chief among them: international shipping rates, security concerns, and numerous layers of customs regulation and taxes. "When someone is shipping an aircraft engine, they don't have to worry about it being stolen at customs compared with someone shipping a $200 smartphone," Donahoe points out.

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One of the intended side effects of the eBay partnership is job creation. For every billion dollars exported, 4,000- 5,000 jobs in the United States are created, according to the Department of Commerce. "The president is totally committed to growing exports because of the job creation capacity and the fact that it's positive for economic growth," emphasized Secretary Pritzker.

Secretary Pritzker's visit to eBay occurred on the second day of her first tour to Silicon Valley -- a whirlwind tour of visits to companies including Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB).  Secretary Pritzker also spoke at the Plug and Play Tech Center, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup accelerator where hundreds of early-stage businesses, including PayPal, once came through. She has also visited the Nashville Entrepreneur Center and the Washington, D.C. startup incubator 1776 since being sworn in nine months ago.

The partnership comes amid criticism from activist investor Carl Icahn accusing eBay board members Marc Andreessen and Scott Cook of conflict of interest. eBay has denied any conflict.

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JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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