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    Adding Value in the Digital Economy: China's TPO Experience


    China's experience shows how they are reflecting on new approaches to link business networks, transfer e-commerce knowledge and synthesize business information.
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2000

    To take advantage of the new digital economy, typical services that TPOs offer include electronic provision of trade information; online matchmaking; virtual exhibitions; and Internet-related education and training (see below the line).

    Our main task is to promote the

    exports of Chinese companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Traditionally, SMEs have had limited access to international market information sources. Even now, in an era of information explosion, many of them don't know how to get what they really need from the wilderness of information. Here is what our TPO has done to deliver the business information that our firms need.

    Wiring up the offices and staff

    In 1997, we set up separate local area networks (LANs) in the various departments. In 1999, we installed an office auto-mation system covering the whole headquarters, with features such as paperless office processes and internal information sharing among all departments and staff. The system has just become operational. We expect the efficiency of our internal administration to improve significantly.

    Networks deliver information services

    The Economic Information Department was the first in CCPIT to go online to perform jobs such as information collection, transmission, processing and delivery. Some examples:

    • Trade leads network. In 1997, we established a "trade leads network" to connect all the overseas representative offices of CCPIT around the world, as well as all the sub-councils in China. The trade leads collected by the overseas offices are directly registered onto the network and transmitted to Chinese enterprises via CCPIT's sub-councils' information networks. The trade leads network has substantially shortened the handling time of information. Every week, it delivers over 100 requests for business information. Numerous international trade deals have thus been achieved.

    • Online applications. Companies can now apply for certificates of origin via CCPIT's electronic data interchange (EDI) network. We are also building a new network platform for online applications for trademarks and patents.

    • Recruitment of exhibitors. By using CCPIT's Internet site as a platform, we now are able to conduct online recruitment of exhibitors.

    Encouraging e-commerce for Chinese firms

    In recent years, we have promoted the concept and technology of e-commerce among Chinese enterprises through web sites and an e-commerce promotion campaign.

    Web sites

    The official web site of CCPIT (http://www.ccpit.org) is composed of two parts: one part is in English, called "China Business Information Net", for overseas visitors, the other part is in Chinese, called "International Business Information Net", targeting Chinese enterprises.

    • China Business Information Net, an all-English site with trade information for buyers. The English site, launched in August 1996, includes economic news; foreign economic, trade and investment policies; customs tariffs; economic and trade laws and regulations; market trends; intellectual property rights' protection; exhibitions and trade fairs; regional investment climate and projects; business offers and demands; a China travel guide; and other services.

    • International Business Information Net, a Chinese-language site for exporters. The Chinese section carries information like country business profiles, international economic dynamics, international product and market surveys, national economic and trade laws and regulations around the world, international investment climate, trade and investment opportunities, and other features. The aim is to help Chinese businesses to develop international markets.

    • Chinaproducts.com, a portal for 120,000 exporters. In 1999, CCPIT set up a professional B2B-type web site dedicated to the promotion of China's exports. The web site, Chinaproducts.com, has a large database of of Chinese export products. It contains information on one million Chinese export products and 120,000 Chinese exporting companies. Based on the platform, an online transaction system is being developed. When completed, all the products registered on the site can be purchased and paid for online.

    • China Project Financing, a site targeting foreign investors. We are also building a site called "China Project Financing", which targets the global business community, and features projects from various regions in China seeking investment.

    These web sites have won international and national honours. In 1997, China Business Information Net, the English version of CCPIT's web site, was selected as "one of the most useful web sites to SMEs in the world" by the United Nations Economic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP). In 1998, International Business Information Net, the Chinese version, was recommended by China Export Products Trade Fair (Canton Fair) as a "Renowned Business Web Site in China". In 1999, Chinaproducts.com was distinguished as "National E-commerce Pilot Programme" by the State Information Office under the State Council.

    E-commerce promotion campaigns

    CCPIT sponsors major events every year to help improve Chinese businesses' understanding of e-commerce and introduce practices in international markets.

    • China International E-commerce Conference. This is the largest, most prestigious e-commerce event in China. CCPIT is one of the conference sponsors. Held annually since 1997, it introduces innovative ideas, expertise and successful models to Chinese enterprises. Over 300 world-renowned multinationals in the IT field participated in last April's conference, and over 300 Chinese and international media reported on the event.

    • E-China Forum. The forum is an annual touring event, begun in 1999. This year in June it was held in six cities in China, including Hong Kong. The theme of the forum was "Successful models of e-commerce". Over 300 attendees participated in the forum at each of its stops. The forum was designed to be a reference point for enterprises interested in carrying out e-commerce or converting their conventional business models into more competitive e-commerce models.

    TPOs as network facilitators

    We are also involved in other events sponsored by government agencies and businesses. We feel, however, that these efforts are far from enough.

    There are issues worthy of further discussion. For example, in the information age, a TPO has diminishing advantages over a commercial agency in rendering services to businesses that will make them more profitable and build their capabilities. A TPO may increasingly feel pressure to operate like a commercial agency. On the other hand, providing information may no longer be the most important thing for a TPO to do since companies, even SMEs, are no longer short of information sources. In fact, there is too much information, even junk information, on the Internet.

    TPOs now must focus on helping companies find useful information easily, without wasting their time and energy. In this sense, TPOs are not only providers, but also facilitators. It is important to build trust in the information, as well as trust between parties who meet each other in the virtual world. This may be a new field where TPOs can play a role.

    Mr. Yu Ping is the Assistant Chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT). He can be contacted at ypbjg@public2.east.cn.net
    This article is based on a presentation given by Mr. Yu on the theme of "New tools and mechanisms in trade promotion" at the third World Conference of Trade Promotion Organizations (Marrakech, 25-27 October 2000).

    Typical TPO services in the new digital economy

    The following sums up what many trade promotion organizations (TPOs) offer:
    • Information. TPOs provide information to both foreign and domestic business communities through their web sites. The information, generally speaking, includes market profiles, laws and regulations, customs tariffs, practical guidance on doing business in particular markets, etc.
    • Online matchmaking. Companies can register their company profiles, offers and requests in trade, investment, distribution and other services with a publicly accessible database. Interested parties can search data in the database through some powerful and user-friendly search methods. Some sophisticated systems check the offers and requests registered in the database and automatically match those which fit each other and notify the parties involved. Some even provide free translation services so that viewers at home and abroad can upload and view information in their own languages. Some TPOs are already providing such services, with various degrees of sophistication.
    • Virtual exhibitions. While the advantages of virtual exhibitions are indisputable, traditional exhibitions still have their distinct merits. Virtual exhibitions will prosper and traditional exhibitions will continue to exist, with the two forms complementing each other.
    • Education and training. Most TPOs have been actively educating their business constituencies, especially the SME community, on the application of e-commerce through various activities such as seminars, conferences, training courses, etc.