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    ITC: Developing Trade Now and in the Future

     

     
     
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2005

    Photo: Bianco ITC's senior management team, from left to right: Gian Piero Roz, Ramamurti Badrinath, Joseph Smadja, J. Denis Bélisle, Hendrik Roelofsen, Peter Walters.

    The world of trade grows ever more competitive. Nonetheless, North and South, people keep turning to trade as a tool for development. Why? Because trade makes a difference to improving the lives of the poor, as we see from our projects. In rural Bolivia, for example, the growing Brazil nut industry is lifting thousands of workers and their families out of poverty, while helping to protect the Amazon rainforest. Halfway around the world, Ghana's new horticultural exports are raising poor farmers' incomes, with expected sales of €30 million in 2005.

    Initiatives such as these present powerful ways to help fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and Doha Development Agenda expectations.

    40 years of building capacity to trade

    The year 2004 marked ITC's 40th anniversary: a good occasion to look at the past and sharpen our vision of the future. We offered our vision in two special publications, ITC Presents: Portraits of Trade Development and ITC Speaks on Trade Development Challenges. These publications have received unprecedented feedback from our partners throughout the world and have paved the way to a new look and approach for Trade Forum magazine.

    In ITC's view, building a national capacity to trade is the only way to achieve meaningful and lasting results. Projects and programmes have to be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated with this overriding perspective in mind. ITC is well placed to help countries build their capacity to supply world markets. It has 40 years of experience, considerable technical expertise, cost-effective tools and targeted programmes.

    A good start in 2005

    In the first quarter of 2005, ITC saw progress on several fronts.

    First, a breakthrough under the Integrated Framework (IF). ITC began work on nine IF projects which address the urgent needs of least developed countries (LDCs). ITC expects five more projects to take off in the coming months. New administrative features of the IF Trust Fund allow it to live up to its expectations, in terms of both policy change and increased, concrete technical support. The Blair Commission for Africa recommends that the IF be extended to all low-income countries in Africa and that the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme of ITC, UNCTAD and WTO (JITAP) should receive continued support. ITC wholeheartedly supports this proposal.

    Second, there was rapid progress under the Asia Trust Fund, an initiative launched in September 2004 with the European Commission. Five projects were approved and four more are progressing towards approval. The Fund, featuring fast-track project approvals for short-term technical assistance, may well become a model in other developing regions.

    Another highlight was the agreement ITC signed with the Centre for the Promotion of Imports (CBI) of the Netherlands, to reinvent their approach to cooperation. Beyond considerable financial contributions by CBI, the two organizations will combine their individual technical expertise in dynamic ways to produce better results and greater impact.

    From a delivery perspective, at the end of March 2005, ITC delivered slightly over US$ 5 million, compared to US$ 4.1 million at the same date last year. This significant increase is largely the result of accelerated delivery in JITAP and of the launch of a number of IF projects. ITC forecasts 10% growth in delivery for 2005, in line with its approach to qualitatively and quantitatively managed growth.

    Vision for the future

    ITC believes that, given its limited means, it can contribute best by concentrating its efforts on areas directly related to its strengths and offering high potential for impact. They include: bringing together the private and public sectors in national teams for trade development; trade diversification into fields representing high potential for developing countries and economies in transition; and improving business competitiveness.

    ITC also believes the time is ripe to investigate new frontiers for South-South trade activities and to go further in its programmes reaching out to poor and rural populations. In all these areas, it must keep its eyes stubbornly fixed on the necessity to build a national capacity for trade.

        Public-private partnerships. ITC believes that private-public partnerships are the only way to achieve sustained progress in development through trade. Even though the private sector may be fragile in some countries, its genuine coming together with the public sector is a prerequisite for economic development. Designing and managing effective national and sectoral trade development strategies, and ensuring that they are part and parcel of global development strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, can only be done by the two actors playing together. ITC helped 12 countries do so in 2004. With many tools and a wide network of experts in this field, ITC looks forward to putting them to work for many more countries. Multilateral trade negotiations are another field where the private and public sectors have no choice but to come together for success. ITC helped over 50 countries in this area, and received feedback that this assistance contributed to improving the quality of business-government dialogue on the world trading system.

        Trade diversification. On the supply side of the trade equation, new opportunities are opening up for the developing world. ITC can and needs to do more in the field of trade in services, especially business services and tourism. It also wishes to investigate the potential of generic pharmaceuticals, biodiversity and other environmental exports. It is analysing the potential for exports by cultural industries. Developing countries, with their rich and old traditions, have a lot to offer in this regard.

    ITC's work in South-South trade has centred, so far, within set regions. ITC believes the time has come to apply its methodologies further. Growth in trade over the next decade is expected to come principally from Asia and Latin America. Should small firms in Africa, the Arab states and transition economies turn their attention to these markets, and what can ITC do to help them? Should they join forces to tackle the promising markets for health, education, humanitarian goods and others?

        Competing internationally. To succeed with any products or services in any markets, firms in developing and transition economies need to be internationally competitive. Market access, while important, is not enough. It goes hand in hand with producing competitive goods and services and having the ability to export them. Countries need competitive firms capable of drive and imagination.

    ITC will continue to work with its wide network of national partners to provide small firms with efficient, accessible and affordable business improvement tools and services, training and advice.

    Working efficiently

    ITC aims to improve its accountability, transparency and efficiency. It will devote more effort towards fuller integration of results-based management into its activities and work culture. It will continue to improve business processes, establish a long-term training plan, refresh recruitment and placement policies, and introduce a new system for project budgeting and monitoring.

    All ITC senior managers will be retiring, on account of age, over the coming 18 months. A new team with fresh ideas, together with the existing solid and experienced cadre of experts and middle-level managers, and dedicated staff throughout the organization, should combine to give ITC continued vigour in its search for excellence. We are looking forward to handing over our senior management positions to strong women and men, and we need your help to find them. Now is the time to alert your capitals to look for seasoned trade promoters ready to compete for these jobs and come to Geneva to lead ITC into the next chapter of its history.

    Challenges ahead

    After five years of accelerated growth in delivery, 2004 was a year of consolidation. In addition to activities undertaken in and for 133 countries, ITC made special efforts to forge new strategic alliances, refine its modus operandi and communicate better with stakeholders.

    The four most important challenges for ITC in 2005 will consist in attracting the best people possible to form the new management team, moving further in ITC's niches without falling into the trap of overstretching its human resources, achieving greater synergy between our programmes and tools, and achieving managed growth with predictable and timely transfer of donor funds.

    Finally, ITC is very fortunate to be one of three Geneva-based agencies highly specialized in complementary aspects of international trade, and to enjoy an excellent rapport with both UNCTAD and WTO. This strong technical basis, coupled with ITC's dedicated staff and solid donor support, adds up to a wonderful alliance for fighting poverty through trade.

    This article is based on Mr Bélisle's statement at the 38th session of the Joint Advisory Group on the International Trade Centre.