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    A Hand-made Story


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2004

    Photo: ITC

    Craft enterprises and artisans can today hope to improve their position in global trade, as a result of changes in product classification that can make their contribution to the economy more visible.

    Because of its network in developing countries and its position as a practical organization concerned with export trade, ITC was able to act as a facilitator in this initiative.

    It seems a small step forward on an international scale. The Customs Co-operation Council, the official name of the World Customs Organization (WCO), recommended on 7 July 2000 that states "insert in their statistical nomenclatures, as soon as possible, as many additional subdivisions for hand-made products as they deem necessary". It also suggested that they should "lay down, in their statistical nomenclatures, a definition of hand-made products, and provisions in respect of the certification of such products, if they deem it necessary".

    Behind this decision lay decades of frustration for craftspeople seeking recognition of their contribution to international trade, which - for developing countries - is often a major currency earner. "For over 30 years, craft associations and policy-making bodies from around the world had attempted, without success (apart from a few exceptions), to identify artisanal products separately in the main international system for trade statistics, the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System [HS]," notes María-Mercedes Sala, ITC Senior Market Development Officer for Creative Industries.

    Many countries do not separate artisanal products from other manufactures in statistics, making it difficult for governments to develop or fund export promotion programmes - and for importing countries to distinguish between traditional products and normal commercial manufactures.

    "When I was appointed to the post of product manager for this sector, the requests I received from clients in the field and others made it clear that, without these figures, there was no way to obtain support - political, official, financial or social - to expand production and access to markets," recalls Ms Sala.

    The breakthrough came in 1997. ITC and UNESCO organized a symposium of 44 countries, attended by a WCO representative who had met Ms Sala and learned that a number of people were interested in going back to the long-blocked issue in the new multilateral trade environment. The participants gave ITC a mandate to explore ways of moving forward. ITC set up and coordinated a Working Group on Customs Codification for Crafts, bringing together craft organizations worldwide.

    "I was named their spokesperson to advocate on their behalf to both the HS Review Committee and the HS Committee in Brussels. As the negotiations progressed, we discovered that the developed countries were as eager to find some kind of agreement as the developing country delegates, who appreciated our help in focusing on the issue.

    "In fact, since 1996, WCO has approved only nine non-binding HS-related recommendations. But, even though it does not bind the contracting parties to the HS, the WCO recommendation on hand-made products is of critical importance because of the lack of progress in the previous 30 years," she points out.

    "The recommendation covers just national systems. It was felt that the difficulty of reaching agreement on definitions and international harmonization made this the best way of taking the first step. National authorities should thus notify the WCO Secretariat on the definitions used, the provisions for certification, if any, the list of subdivisions introduced, the acceptance of the recommendation and the date of its application. This keeps open the possibility for further action."

    Richly coloured fibres, such as those used in this hand-knotted carpet from Tunisia, can command a good price on international markets. (Photo: ITC)

    So far, the recommendation has been officially adopted by three countries: Canada, Morocco and Senegal. "Morocco and Senegal are major producing countries for artisanal products, and Canada already has a very good system of monitoring and regulation for hand-made products - which is something of a vote of confidence in the terms of the recommendation," observes Ms Sala.

    "Other steps are under way. The management committee for the common external tariff of the West African Economic and Monetary Union has recommended that its eight member states adopt the recommendation. Most of its members are least developed countries with a considerable production and trade in artisanal products. The proposal could even be adopted in 2004. The idea is also being considered by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, adding seven more potential adherents.

    "ITC was able to play a crucial role in this effort," Ms Sala points out, "because of its networks with developing countries and its expertise in facilitation, which were appreciated by all sides - its clients, the developing and transition economies, and the developed countries such as Canada, the European Union, Japan and the United States, which also encouraged us in our work."

    Writer: Peter Hulm

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