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    Executive Forum on National Export Strategies Held in Cancún


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2003

    National teams exchanged ideas at the Executive Forum.

    In keeping with the preoccupations of the Doha Development Agenda, ITC focused its annual Executive Forum debate on the theme "Business for Development: Implications for Export Strategy-makers", and moved the event from its traditional home of Montreux, Switzerland to Cancún, Mexico.

    The debate, from 6-9 September 2003, was a precursor to the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Mexican Foreign Trade Bank (BANCOMEXT), the Swedish International Cooperation Agency and the Netherlands' Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI) joined the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and ITC as co-hosts.

    Analysing strategy

    A record 54 teams participated, with each team comprising a senior public sector decision-maker and a leading representative of the business community. Many joined their national delegations for the subsequent WTO Conference.

    Given the dynamics of the Doha Agenda negotiations, discussion was both lively and provocative. Participating teams stressed the need for strategy-makers to balance negotiations on market access with greater efforts to develop supply side capacity - a balance that is absent from many countries' approach to developing national competitiveness. Participants also identified the private sector's failure to conduct effective business advocacy for trade as a limiting factor to long-term competitiveness - echoing a message of ITC's "Business for Cancún" consultations. They cited inadequate attention to building partnerships between the public and private sectors as one reason behind ineffective strategy making. Another reason cited was strategy-makers' fixation on attracting foreign direct investment to boost exports, at the expense of supporting export alliances among local firms.

    Linking exports to development

    The most animated debate concerned attempts to merge, within the national export strategy process, potentially conflicting objectives of competitiveness and effectiveness on the one hand, and sustainable development and shared benefit, on the other. They explored the question: "In today's competitive international marketplace, is 'Business for Development' a realistic goal for export strategy-makers?" Participants held strong opinions for and against the "best practice" proposition that the development "gear" of national strategy is not only important but essential.

    Delegations from least-developed countries actively led discussion on the concept of, and practical approaches to, a "pro-poor" export strategy. Sok Siphana, Secretary of State of the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce, championed this approach, supported by developmentally-oriented entrepreneurs in sectors ranging from organically grown spices, to essential oils and car seat production.

    Taking on tourism

    The discussion of tourism as an export and development opportunity complemented a wider discussion of why developing and transition economies fail to take full advantage of their potential to export business and professional services. The debate touched on such fundamental issues as how to manage anticipated growth in incoming and outgoing tourism and the competitive pressures of this worldwide industry. The Secretary of Mexico's Ministry of Tourism, Rodolfo Elizondo, and the head of the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization, Francesco Frangialli, introduced the debate. Internationally recognized specialists in "sustainable" tourism and national branding, Ken Robinson and Wally Olins, focused on critical decision points that strategy-makers must confront.

    Becoming e-competent

    The debate on the importance of e-competency to the competitiveness of developing and transition economies, and to helping small firms emerge on to the international arena, proved to be an active session of Executive Forum 2003. Strategy-makers need to stress the linkage between technology, short-term commercial success and long-term viability. Discussions reinforced the argument that small developing country firms can adopt "e" in their international business dealings, in spite of limitations in national infrastructure, and that success stories are replicable not only within countries, but among countries. Models of success can, indeed, be exported.

    Reviewing technical assistance

    The Executive Forum closed with a debate on how technical cooperation agencies, such as ITC, should adjust their approaches to technical assistance to support the "Business for Development" objectives. A number of recommendations were presented, which will not only influence ITC's future approach to delivering technical support, but will provide the basis for ongoing dialogue with national export strategy-makers and donors.

    One immediate output of the Cancún debate was a commitment to work more closely, and intensively, with national strategy teams to review existing approaches to export development, or to develop new export strategies. Based on a strong expression of interest, arrangements were made for a November 2003 consultation in Geneva on managing the national export strategy design process. Twenty teams participated, with the view to beginning the strategy development process in early 2004.

    This should provide a wealth of experience and lessons learned for review at Executive Forum 2004.

    Brian Barclay (barclay@intracen.org) is the Coordinator of the Executive Forum. For more information, contact Mr Barclay or visit the Executive Forum web site (http://www.intracen.org)