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    Building Capacity to Compete in Business


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2004

    Globalization is changing business. Falling trade barriers, lower transport costs and communication technologies blur the lines between "domestic" and "international" markets. Whether businesses compete in foreign markets or compete locally with foreign firms, most of today's firms face sharper competition and are obliged to think more internationally than they have in the past.

    Building the capacity to compete in business - in the face of globalization's challenges - is what this magazine issue explores. Without that capacity to supply international markets and face international competition on domestic ground, developing countries cannot be effective economic players.

    While firms are in the front lines to respond to competitive challenges, they need back-up from governments and trade institutions.

    This is true for all developing countries, but it's especially important for the world's 50 poorest countries, which saw their meagre share in international trade drop from 1.7% in 1970 to 0.6% in 2002.

    In this issue, we look at competitiveness in a globalized world from three standpoints:

    • The big picture - elements of a national competitiveness strategy that gives firms the framework they need to compete. More easily said than done, effective government-business partnerships are the key. Equally important is to learn from collective experiences - to spot and adapt "best practices", examples of competitiveness strategies that work.
    • An in-depth look at one sector - the coffee market. Supply has outweighed demand for several years and producers face difficult options. We challenge facile assumptions about adding value at origin; analyse supply and demand trends; and outline ITC's support to the coffee trade.
    • A sample of ITC initiatives that make trade work for development, and put into practice what is known in development circles as "creating supply-side capacity" which allows firms, and countries, to compete in today's business world.
    Elisabeth Yanné Fanta of Cameroon, featured on our cover, is an example. Involved in national and provincial promotion of artisanal products, she is one of 80 women who attended an ITC "train-the-trainers" course on communications technology use for exporters. Whether we bring businesses to the table when countries develop WTO negotiation strategies; encourage women entrepreneurs to export; match buyers and sellers of a region in the pharmaceuticals industry; or develop pilot projects in community-based, export-led poverty reduction, we at ITC work each day to help businesses, industry sectors and countries to be more competitive.

    We've featured these different perspectives on business competitiveness to support ITC's contribution to UNCTAD XI, a major trade development conference this year. Most of the projects in this issue are integrated in the conference activities. UNCTAD has also contributed an article that underlines the aim of the conference - assuring development gains from trade.

    We also continue with our coverage of ITC's 40th anniversary. See our report on ITC's annual meeting, where both present and former colleagues were there in force to launch ITC's anniversary, with congratulations on its achievements from donors and beneficiaries alike.

    For Forum readers, we've included a special focus on the magazine itself, which also celebrates its 40th birthday in 2004. Take a step back in time with us, and view the decade-by-decade glimpses of Forum magazine over the years.