THE MOUSE THAT ROARS

THE MOUSE THAT ROARS

Thinking of getting into the import-export game? Then hop on the Web!

The Internet has an enormous storehouse of help for anyone with a computer, modem and the time it takes to navigate through dozens of sites devoted to international trade.The U.S. government itself offers a wealth of advice and information for fledgling importers and exporters as well as for those who haven't yet made the leap into international trade. And within the government, nobody does it better than the Commerce Department.

But Commerce's offerings are so vast that the beginner might better be advised to head first for its Trade Information Center Web site, probably the logical first stop for anyone wishing to expand business beyond the borders of the United States.

''The Internet is one of the most valuable tools available to people interested in getting into international trade,' said Mary Beth Morgan, a spokeswoman for center.

''It's inexpensive, and they can get the information they want immediately. I think the Trade Information Center is an excellent starting place for people who don't already know a great deal about international trade. It's an easily navigable site, and that's important.''

Visitors to the TIC Web site will find themselves only a click of the mouse away from general export information, trade leads and events, financing information and country and regional market information.

Also available at the site are lists of helpful online publications and domestic and foreign trade contacts.

The Web site of Commerce's International Trade Administration, of which TIC is a subsite, has still more information for companies interested in getting into international trade.

One can browse through trade statistics to check exports and imports both by industry and country. One may access the Import Administration through the ITA home page and also learn about the U.S. Export Assistance Center program, which is a project of Commerce, the Export-Import Bank and the Small Business Administration.

Though there are 19 USEACs scattered around the country, one of the most exciting plans now under discussion for the Web is a virtual USEAC. This would allow anyone with access to the Internet to take advantage of the centers.

The Journal of Commerce's Web Site at www.joc.com carries daily news of international trade developments worldwide.

The Ex-Im Bank's Web site is about two years old, said Ken Murphy, a spokesman for the bank. When first launched, the bank's online presence was handled by the Ex-Im Bank's computer department; last spring, it was handed over to the communications department.

''One of our goals for the site is to make it a fulfillment tool for exporters around the world - obviously U.S. exporters, and for anybody in any country who needs information about the U.S. Export-Import Bank,'' Mr. Murphy said.

''The other major goal is to make it a uniting tool for the bank. Now all the arms of the bank - business development, communications, engineering, human resources and our computer department - are involved in putting information on the site. It's truly an interdepartmental effort.''

Surprisingly, the Ex-Im Bank found that its main program page is only the fifth most popular page on its site, topped by its country information page, links page, country facts page and the country limitation page.

This indicates that many users are repeat visitors to the site and have bookmarked the page that is of primary interest to them.

''We've added interactivity to the site. We have a map of the United States where you can click on any state and find out what our activity there has been for the current fiscal year as well as the last five years,' Mr. Murphy said. ''It's all database-driven information, so we don't have to update these pages all the time. All we do is update the database, and that automatically updates the Web pages involved.''

The Small Business Administration's Office of International Trade has a Web site designed to help ''small-business exporters find the resources to grow their businesses through exporting . . . and this information is available 365 days a year with the click of a mouse,'' said Nancy Larson, the OIT's marketing manager.

The SBA's international trade home page lists a variety of resources available to companies looking to go global. These include a directory of Small-Business Development Centers, a trade events calendar, a directory of the USEACs around the country, online publications and a listing of lenders that participate in SBA's Export Working Capital Program.

The private sector offers more online help for the would-be or fledgling exporter or importer.

Export-Link, a division of Coleman Research Corp., historically had done a good deal of government consulting in connection with energy, the environment and international trade, according to Brad Kabanuk, vice president and division manager.

''The Internet is a great tool for us - first, in allowing us to get access to our information and, second, in giving us a means to help companies in their day-to-day activities,'' Mr. Kabanuk said.