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    Partners' Views on the Executive Forum

     

     
     
    Where Do We Go from Here?
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/1999

    Viewpoint from Nepal
    by Padma Jyoti

    "Where do we go from here?" is a wise question to ask, especially at the end of the first leg of any journey. Before coming to Annecy, many of us thought that we knew exactly where we were going. But Mr. Bélisle and Mr. Ricupero on the very first day told us that for our journey, traffic rules have been changed and driving speeds have been raised to dangerously high levels.

    If we want to benefit from world trends, we have to understand them and start building capability at home. As Professor Blanc said, increase the capability of organizations. Build institutions to accumulate knowledge, so that it is available for future use and it adds value.

    Competitiveness: not optional

    Then comes the capability of our business firms to compete. The writing on the wall is clear. If our companies do not build capability to compete in the world export market, soon they will be wiped out in the domestic market too. Small firms getting together to form strategic alliances among themselves and with multinationals is important.

    Trust your partners

    We must reinforce the capability of all sectors - public and private, national and international - to work together in a partnership of trust, as Mr. Bélisle pointed out.

    Cohesiveness

    Another important lesson is that export is no longer an isolated subject. To be really successful in the new environment, we have to improve all areas of our economy in harmony, in an integrated way. Taxation policy, fiscal issues, the investment environment, the financial sector, skills development and governance at national and corporate levels are such areas.

    We must also always remember that an increase in export and trade is not an end in itself, but a means to improve the lives of as many people as possible in a sustainable way.

    From information to knowledge

    The explosion in the amount of information available and dramatic improvements in technology are modern phenomena. Access to information and to technology is easier now than ever before. What is lacking is our ability to absorb knowledge, adapt technology and use it profitably and productively. This is an important area to address in the future, especially in developing countries.

    Competition is no longer based on low prices or cheap costs. Competition is BASED now on quality, service, value and networking - all results of putting knowledge to use.

    Just as definitions of trade have expanded, so must the role of trade promotion organizations and private sector organizations. All of them must become storehouses and providers of up-to-date information to business firms. They must be agents of change to upgrade skills and capability through training, training and more training.

    Resources

    All of the participants I talked to stated that the resource crunch is a big constraint. Using available funds more effectively is one option, but we also have to find innovative ways to raise resources - matching funds from the World Bank, sale of services to members, technical assistance opportunities and other channels all have to be explored vigorously.

    Next steps

    With the help of ITC, trade promotion organizations and chambers of commerce should collect and disseminate "best practices" from all over the world. They can also help to carry out competitiveness analysis and benchmarking to help member firms. Trade promotion organizations can become a point for private sector firms, chambers of commerce, national governments and international agencies to come together to build linkages to each other. The vision of trade promotion organizations has to sharpen, so that they look at all domestic firms as potential exporters or suppliers to exporters.

    Padma Jyoti is Vice President, Chamber of commerce and Industry, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. He can be reached by e-mail at pjyoti@himal.mos.com.np

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    Viewpoint from Costa Rica
    by Eduardo Alonso

    The discussions showed that the challenges ahead are of a completely different nature than they used to be. Issues like globalization, the WTO Agreements and the trend to level the playing field definitely influence which activities export promotion organizations ought to develop.

    Missing links

    We have been confronted with examples of national export strategies. In my view, many developing countries do not have an explicit and comprehensive strategy for exports. What they do have are programmes for macroeconomic stabiliza-tion and trade liberalization. This is not enough to enhance the capabilities of countries to enter successfully in the world economy, based on real competitiveness.

    If we consider the basics of structural adjustment programmes - price policy, trade policy, fiscal policy and public finance policy - I believe that big progress has been made in trade policy and price policy. Fiscal policy and public finance policy are complex tasks, requiring government reform. State reform also covers institution-building in the public and private sectors.

    Where are the institutional capabilities to enhance linkages in developing countries? Where is the "multi-agency approach" to carry out export competitiveness? These linkages are often missing, causing countries to lose opportunities to improve competitiveness and achieve sustainable development.

    Value-added exports

    Export promotion does not mean export subsidies, but promotion of competitiveness.

    We are not talking about export promotion any more; we are talking about general competitiveness. If, in addition, we talk about "clustering" and about investment promotion for trade purposes, then we are talking about achieving higher value-added in our production and in our exports. Value-added is now the name of the game. Value-added leads to differentiation and is one way to achieve competitiveness, diversified exports and more foreign exchange, the bottom line of any export promotion strategy.

    Private sector involvement is critical. The private sector has an enormous contribution to make. However, the private sector has to see more than business opportunities for itself; it has to contribute to defining policies and programmes that improve performance, particularly for small and medium-sized firms.

    A process takes time

    We have to remember that building competitiveness is a process. This process takes time, especially for the change of mind required from many actors. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

    ITC's role

    There are three areas where ITC can be more active in the future.

    ITC should lead discussion about the role of trade promotion organizations today, within the framework of a systematic, strategic way of thinking about competitiveness.

    ITC should, together with other international organizations, push for the definition of explicit trade strategies in developing countries, including the implementation of the institutional framework required for strategy implementation.

    ITC could help developing countries to develop trading companies, as a way to promote specialization and bring value-added, taking into account national experiences.

    Eduardo Alonso, an international trade consultant, formerly served as General Manager of the Costa Rican Export Promotion Board. He can be contacted by e-mail at ealonso@mail.ticonet.co.cr

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    Viewpoint from Ghana
    by Tawia Akayea

    One would have thought that, with the demise of the cold war, we would enter a simpler world. It is a paradox that the world has become even more complicated. We have to grapple with bridging the gap between developing and developed countries.

    Export-led development

    Development is the challenge. That challenge can be met through accelerated export growth.

    The Executive Forum exposed us to examples of successful national responses. These suggest that export growth is a viable proposition. We found that institutional linkages in a country are essential; trade and investment linkages within and outside the country are fundamental; and so are linkages with industry.

    There are country-level considerations and enterprise-level concerns, not to speak of global issues. Yet at the end of the day, those who are successful are those who achieve overall competitiveness, based on committed partnerships between the public and the private sectors.

    We learn from this consultation that national export strategies, particularly for developing countries, need renewed attention. Trade promotion organizations, working in public-private sector partnerships, with appropriate support from multilateral agencies and donors, can play a catalytic role in the process of achieving export-led development.

    Exports are critical to the development process. The work of trade promotion organizations should thus be seen not only as relevant, but central to the strategic development efforts of our countries.

    ITC's role

    ITC has an important role as a resource centre and a reference point for best practices. Because time is of the essence for development, the learning curve to build capacity for trade promotion must be very steep. There is little time for experimentation, which, in any case, can also be expensive. This is why ITC should focus on the knowledge collection and dissemination business though improved technical assistance and information provision programmes. ITC will best serve the needs of its partners and clients by enhancing its role as a clearing-house of knowledge and as a pillar of advocacy for trade promotion in developing countries.

    In the future, it would be useful to explore the theme "human resource needs for effective trade promotion". After all, people make the difference.

    Tawia Akayea is Executive Secretary of the Ghana Export Promotion Council. He can be reached by e-mail at gepc@ighmail.com