The US Commercial Service (trade.gov/cs), part of the US Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, is tasked with enhancing the competitiveness of American businesses. One of USCS's initiatives is providing an annotated portal to databases available throughout the federal government relevant to international trade and business. If you are ever at a loss as to what government resource to begin with, start here.
For any info pro or analyst looking at the global economy, the US Commercial Service's Market Research Library is an invaluable resource. Head over to www.buyusainfo.net. (Despite the different domain, it's part of the USCS.) At the search screen, pull down the Report Type menu to choose Market Research Reports, Country Commercial Guides, or Best Market Reports, and then select any other criteria you want.
When I need information on the business climate of a country, I often use the USCS Country Commercial Guides. I can learn such detailed information as how to most effectively market consumer products in Fiji, that the UK market for software ranks first in Europe, and that the EU eco-label is a voluntary and often very popular label for products that meet high standards of environmental awareness.
When a company is considering what markets to expand into, the Market Research Reports bring on-the-ground intelligence about the business climate for a specific industry in a specific country. A report on the wastewater treatment equipment industry in Canada, for example, describes the technologies that will soon be required for mandatory upgrades to treatment facilities, and the key competitors within Canada. With the detailed contact information in the report, my client can learn enough to know how to move into the market and who the key players are.
Some clients ask for the strongest or most promising markets within a country or region. I can scan the Best Markets reports to see that, in Japan for example, the future looks good for the green IT industry and the outbound overseas wedding market.
One possible drawback of all these resources is that, unsurprisingly, they generally have a US perspective. For example, at TradeStats Express (tse.export.gov), another brand within the International Trade Administration, you can generate nice pie charts of the largest imports or exports between the US and any other country. However, you can't look at the trade within Pacific Rim countries, say, or between India and the Middle East.
The search tools are rudimentary; fortunately, the database is small enough that some basic filters are all that you need. While sometimes more granular than you might need, the resources within the US Commercial Service are worth a try. And the price (free) makes it an appealing addition to your search toolkit.
[Note that some of these resources are only available to US companies and individuals.]