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    At a Glance: Executive Forum on National Export Strategies


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2003

    The Executive Forum has evolved from an annual debate among export strategy leaders in business and government, to a network of contacts, with case studies, tools and recommendations for successful export strategies.

    The Executive Forum began as a discussion among senior public sector officials and representatives of the business community, on the need for governments to take a strategic approach to export promotion. Since then, the Executive Forum has evolved rapidly. The focus is identifying 'best practice' in export strategy design and management. The Executive Forum's annual cycle of research, debate and publication has expanded to include regional and national applications that contribute to reshaping actual national export strategies.

    Public-private partnership

    The fundamental principle is that national strategy-making should not lie exclusively in the domain of the public sector. Quite the contrary: to be successful, national strategy requires direct and ongoing participation of the private sector. ITC research has shown that what sets successful exporting countries apart is a joint public-private strategy to build and keep competitive advantage. Effective strategy-making is characterized by partnership - one that is led by the government, but driven by the business community.

    These views are widely shared by most Executive Forum participants. As one of them commented: "Export Development Plans were drawn up jointly by the public and private sectors by establishing Advisory Councils for each product sector, with the participation of all players."

    From the start, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (seco) has sponsored and developed the Executive Forum jointly with ITC.


    Themes have included:

    • Redefining Trade Promotion - the Need for a Strategic Response (1999);

    • Export Development in the Digital Economy (2000);

    • Is Your Trade Support Network Working? (2001); and

    • Managing Competitive Advantage (2002).

    Each annual Executive Forum has generated 'best practice' recommendations. The 1999 and the 2001 Executive Forums underlined that strategy must address capacity and competency development, not just market promotion. They reviewed the implications of this approach for the structure and operation of the national trade support network. This discussion led to the 'four-gear' strategic paradigm contained in ITC's new Secrets of Strategy Template. The 2000 Executive Forum examined the impact of e-commerce on the competitiveness of developing and transition economies and the implications for export strategists. The views and experience of participants in this Executive Forum led to ITC's new E-trade Bridge technical cooperation programme.

    Executive Forum network

    Through the web site and through the global and regional events, ITC is working towards developing a network of strategy-makers seeking to exchange information and views on export strategy best practice. As one recent participant noted by way of example, "Many of those who participated from neighbouring countries are keeping in contact, and, in particular, exchanging information on export promotion in the apparel sector, due to the impending changes after 2005."

    Those interested in joining the network are invited to review the site and to contact ITC for further details.

    A strong reputation

    The Executive Forum has acquired a strong reputation among developing countries for innovative yet practical solutions, as well as networking opportunities. Evaluations carried out at the beginning and end of each event have shown repeatedly that participants appreciate the open-ended and challenging debate and the original concept of having national teams of people from government and business circles.

    Participants also appreciate the networking opportunities with others who, while from different countries, share their preoccupations and can offer answers that have been tested in similar national conditions to their own.

    This quote from a participant summarizes the general feedback: "All three of my objectives in participating in the Forum were fulfilled: first, understanding how to build an effective export strategy for my country; second, understanding how to manage the strategy well; and third, creating good relations with ITC and other organizations and friends from several countries."

    • Global debate

      The central feature of the Executive Forum is a global debate, organized jointly by ITC and seco. Held annually, at the end of September, each debate focuses on an aspect of national export strategy. Up to 25 national strategy teams are invited to the debate, where they exchange views on best practice propositions put forward by ITC and develop ideas for national-level follow-up. In preparation, the national teams provide papers and contribute to shaping the best practice propositions.

      The tradition is for the global debate to be held in Montreux, Switzerland. This year, as an exception, it will be held in Cancún, Mexico, just before the WTO Ministerial Conference.

    • Regional Executive Forums

      With a view to expanding the Executive Forum's outreach, each year, ITC, seco and a national trade development partner organize Regional Executive Forums. Participants review the conclusions of the global debate in the context of regional issues and priorities. In 2003, Regional Executive Forums are planned for Santa Cruz, Bolivia (June) and Sofia, Bulgaria (November). Previous Regional Executive Forums were held in Nairobi, Kenya (2001) and Johannesburg, South Africa (2002).

    • Secrets of Strategy Template

      Based on research and debates held over the past four years, ITC has prepared the Secrets of Strategy Template, a CD-ROM to assist strategy-makers to formulate tailor-made export strategies, at sector and national levels. This interactive tool covers the entire strategy design process.

    • National-level applications

      ITC provides technical support to countries in the early stages of strategy development.

    • Publications

      The results of each global debate are summarized in the annual Executive Forum publication. The full text of each publication is available on the Executive Forum web site. Highlights of the debate are published in special issues of ITC's Trade Forum magazine.

    • E-discussions

      To ensure that a full spectrum of views is available for review at the debate, and to share the global debate with a wider audience, ITC organizes a series of e-mail discussions. ITC encourages the participation of all those interested, and specifically those who are unable to attend the debates.

    • Web site

      The Executive Forum web site (http://www.intracen.org/execforum) provides full information on past and planned Executive Forums. The site is designed as a reference centre and contains all papers contributed to the debate by all participating national teams. Articles of interest to strategy-makers are posted on the site on a regional basis.

      For more information, see the Executive Forum web site. To request copies of publications or the Secrets of Strategy Template, contact the Executive Forum team at execforum@intracen.org