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  • EASTERN EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA

    With economic growth of 5.5% in 2011, the economies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) have made positive gains since the crisis of 2008-2009, which hit them especially hard. Growth, however, remains slower than that of many countries in the rest of the developing world, and a more moderate 3.4% is forecast for 2012 by the World Bank.

    The region’s economies, which are driven largely by materials and low value-added goods, are particularly vulnerable to volatile movements in commodities markets and they remain exposed to unstable prices, as well as to falling exports revenues, in the event of a prolonged crisis in Western Europe.

    Connecting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to the global trading system remains a challenge in a region with a legacy of central planning focused on big enterprises, and where responding to market needs had historically not been important. Compounding the matter, the lack of regional networks, macroeconomic stability, and proper legal and financial infrastructure has often impaired the area’s ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).

    Inroads have been made, however: developments such as Russia’s entry into the WTO and the formation of the Common Economic Space between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, provide evidence that some countries are taking positive steps towards strengthening their involvement in both regional and global trade networks.

    The interest that other countries have expressed in joining this space, together with ambitious plans for further integration, may be a signal that the region is headed towards a new era of economic cooperation. This integration is sure to pose both opportunities and challenges for the private sector, and it is essential that the region’s SMEs become better equipped to compete on the world stage.

    Economic and social progress has been witnessed, and according to UNECE, roughly 18% of the region’s 480 million people have moved out of poverty since 1999. With a third of the population still considered poor or vulnerable, however, there is still a need for increased cooperation in sustainable, trade-driven development.

    One of ITC’s key objectives in the region is to foster export competitiveness in a variety of non-oil sectors in order to improve welfare for a cross-section of society and promote a stable, diversified economy. To achieve this, ITC works in a number of areas: getting businesses closer to markets; facilitating efforts toward increased trade between neighbouring countries; enhancing business-owners’ trade intelligence skills; encouraging production and marketing cooperation; and showing enterprises how they can benefit from multilateral trade agreements, with specific focus on the WTO.
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