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    Afro-Arab Trade Fair Uses Internet Café

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 
     

    An ITC consultant displays the BADEA site to high-level representatives of the Governments of An ITC consultant displays the BADEA site to high-level representatives of the Governments of Senegal and Tunisia, the Arab League and the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa.

    Emmanuel Barreto was part of a team of ITC consultants which developed a site for the Fourth Afro-Arab Trade Fair (Dakar, Senegal, 15-25 April 1999). Below he reports on what visitors were looking for at the Internet café.

    Cafés have historically been a place for exchanging views and ideas. A CyberCafé uses new technologies to provide a location where information is exchanged in an efficient and timely manner.

    As part of the Fourth Afro-Arab Trade Fair, ITC designed and operated a CyberCafé, commissioned by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) for their exhibit stand. Before the event, ITC developed a web site that would display relevant market information for African and Arab countries. Based on extensive research to identify relevant information sources and categorize them, the web site contained 908 sources, broken down into five categories: country profile, trade statistics, business opportunities, company directories, and trade fairs. It covered 43 African and 22 Arab countries. In addition, it provided information on the regional role of the BADEA, as well as statistics about Afro-Arab potential trade.

    The trade fair had 264 participating companies and organizations from 22 countries. From this group, the BADEA CyberCafé received about 30 visitors each day, who mostly fell into the categories of business executives; government officials and trade promotion representatives; and students.

    Business executives formed the great majority. Senegalese entrepreneurs had the most specific questions. What most interested them was company directories, business opportunities and market briefs. The main subject of research was either agriculture or fishing. They lacked confidence in trying out the Internet on their own, and always requested printouts.

    Government officials from ministries and representatives from trade promotion organizations had more general trade interests, and were looking for an overview of what was available. Most of them were not interested in using the keyboard themselves. This group was especially interested in presentations of PC-TAS (trade statistics) and the ITC Trade Information Tool Kit (a new CD-ROM with a collection of ITC trade information products).

    Students were interested in navigating the Web, including learning about search engines and research techniques. Groups of students from local universities took advantage of guided tours with the assistance of ITC consultants. Their level of Internet expertise was high.

    Most users were interested in where specific information could be found, rather than how they could make use of the Internet. These users looked at the Internet in a practical way, as a new means of basic communication, like the fax machine in the 1980s. For example, users did not demonstrate much interest in using the Internet to market their own products and services, still preferring more traditional means.

    Although ITC had prepared geographic-specific information, most questions were product-specific. This is a lesson to keep in mind when developing services and products to promote trade.

    Access was not an issue, as Senegal is a country with good Internet connections. At the CyberCafé, four computers were running on average eight hours per day without problems.

    For more information contact Emmanuel Barreto, Trade Information Consultant at barreto@intracen.org