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    Early Days at ITC


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2004

    Interview by Peter Hulm

    As a preview to our end-of-year publication on ITC's 40th anniversary, we've turned to two ITC "historians": Jacqueline Rigoulet and Frederick J. Glover. In this interview they try to communicate what it was like to work in ITC during its early days.

    Fred: Most United Nations bodies have a constitution setting out what they do and how to do it before they are created. It wasn't anything like that for ITC in the beginning.

    The Brazilians and Indians in the GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the precursor to the World Trade Organization] complained that nothing was being done to help developing countries in their exports.

    Fred: The head of GATT at that time, Eric Wyndham White, had an informal approach. He took "the sense of the meeting" at GATT and gave instructions to do something about it.

    Fred's official history reported that a GATT Expert Group on 19 March 1964 recommended establishing "trade information and trade promotion advisory services in the framework of GATT". It also said it would not be possible to determine the best course of action for "the future operations of the Centre" until some time after the services had started to function. The head of GATT announced the establishment of the Centre on 1 May 1964, housed in the Villa le Bocage in the grounds of the Palais des Nations as part of the GATT Secretariat, with three seconded professionals and two general-service staff. On 1 October 1964, Herbert L. Jacobson, a US national, was appointed Head of the Centre.

    Jacquie: He was a fantastic guy - a power-house. He treated the Centre like a business. That is why it worked so well. We were all enthusiastic, and that is why the retired staff of ITC still follow what is happening in the organization. We all believed that what we were doing was going to be important. When people started talking about globalization a couple of decades later, I pointed out that we had started helping developing countries to benefit from globalization in 1965.

    The Trade Forum magazine is the oldest surviving part of ITC. The original idea was that it was going to be called the International Trade Information Centre. The governments in the GATT thought it was all that was needed: more information for developing countries. Jacobson showed them after a while that that was not true - that what the developing countries wanted was real information about export potential and export possibilities and then assistance, especially with training and market research to enable them to exploit those opportunities. It wasn't just a question of producing a document every so often. We gradually expanded into training.

    Jacqui: We learned to do everything. First organizing the typing pool, then documents control. Then I was conference officer and then a project officer. We learned on the spot, from our own experiences, from the problems we ran up against. From that we learned to improve ourselves. Many who stayed in ITC eventually did all the jobs in the organization. I knew what happened in all sections.

    Jacobson was very keen on organizing a high-level symposium of government offices, exporters and institutions like chambers of commerce to find out what countries needed in the export field. I was responsible for something like 23 of these high-level symposia. We could act as an impartial arbiter between the government and the private sector. We then started linking these symposia with a programming exercise to produce a project document for activities we thought we could have financed by a donor or by the United Nations. We were able to get this going - in some countries very successfully. At the peak of our activities, we had 600 people on long- and short-term assignments. This field presence was very useful because we had a lot of interchange between headquarters and the field.

    Jacquie: We eventually developed integrated projects. When we first started we had separate activities of information, training, short-term consultancies, market research. It was all rather fragmented. The idea was: why shouldn't we consolidate this into one integrated package? We would develop a programme for training, information and publications, all together, all focused on one country. This programme caught the attention of some donors, especially the Swedes, and they were keen to finance this effort.

    Fred: We also transferred this expertise into publications. We produced a number of exporters' handbooks. I did two or three of those. We produced a number of training manuals. All this was derived from actually doing the training.

    Jacquie: Then there was the trade-attaché programme. This was a sort of follow-up to the high-level symposia.

    Fred: In the early 1970s we were talking with the Australians about ways to improve the performance of trade attachés. Sometimes they had all kinds of other duties as well. The Australians said: "We'll send you one of our best trade attachés for a year and he will write you a guide." This book was on the list of publications for several decades, full of practical information.

    The book became a best-seller very quickly. Brazil decided to hold a meeting of its trade attachés using the book. We conducted three sessions a day for one week and went through the book page by page, adapting it to Brazilian needs, and published it in Portuguese.

    This was so successful that we started a programme in ITC with Jacquie and another officer. They did the same thing in French. It proved to be a very good way of training trade attachés.

    Jacquie: We carried out projects in Senegal, in Stockholm for the developing country trade attachés in Sweden, as well as in Canada and several other countries. We had good relations with the Chamber of Commerce in Budapest.

    Fred: Because of our success over the years, we taught the governments how to ask for technical cooperation on trade-related issues. Eventually it culminated in an important decision taken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which decided that the governments should have the last word in any use of funds allocated for project activities. The impetus for projects left the agencies and came to reside in the governments. They also wanted to use their own people, reducing the demand for a large number of field staff. So we moved to training in the countries themselves. Then we moved on to the idea that instead of training participants we should train the trainers.

    Jacquie: But it was still a real family business. We worked together and we enjoyed ourselves together.

    Jacqueline Rigoulet worked in most departments of ITC, spent two years on secondment to the UN Environment Programme in Nairobi, worked on integrated projects, and was in the training section when she retired in 1984. She continued to work with ITC through the UN Economic Commission for Europe. Frederick J. Glover came to ITC in 1971, leaving as deputy director in 1980 to head up the British Trade Development Agency (the import promotion office). He wrote a historical account of the first 20 years for ITC, The International Trade Centre UNCTAD/GATT 1964-1984 - an historical account of twenty years of service to developing countries.