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    From Negotiations to Export Capacity, ITC Builds Bridges: A Report on ITC's Annual Meeting


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2005

    Photo: Bianco Representatives from 93 countries which articipate in global trade met at ITC's annual meeting. Government officials from Sri Lanka to Spain and Djibouti to Denmark, and business representatives from as far afield as Nepal and Romania discussed ways to boost trade in developing regions.

    ITC reviewed its progress in helping countries to supply world markets at the Joint Advisory Group on the International Trade Centre, its annual meeting with beneficiaries and donors (Geneva, 18-22 April). Representatives from 93 developed and developing countries participated in the event, which studies ITC's work in the previous year and sets priorities for the year to come.

    Many emphasized the importance of practical assistance to develop trade and of building links between players in today's complex trade environment. Helping least developed countries (LDCs) especially to build the capacity to supply international markets and reverse a trend of marginalization was at the forefront of delegates' concerns.

    Linking market access and supply

    Many LDCs spoke of the difficulty in adjusting to the "erosion of preferences" and the move towards liberalization without having competitive export structures in place for goods and services. "Market access is essential, but it's not enough," noted J. Denis Bélisle, ITC's Executive Director. "To make trade work for the poor, countries need to concentrate on their capacity to supply world markets."

    Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, Director-General of WTO, appreciated "ITC's initiatives to inform and educate business communities in developing countries and encourage them to engage in WTO processes". Representing the head of UNCTAD, Victor Busuttil, Director of UNCTAD's Division of Management, emphasized ITC's "trade for development" contribution to building supply-side capacities, its role in poverty reduction and its work towards fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. ITC's close and complementary partnership with these two organizations has shaped its unique and pragmatic focus.

    The Korean Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, the "best of the best" winner of the first global awards for trade promotion organizations (TPOs), also addressed the group, outlining the positive role of TPOs in economic development.

    ITC's work in poverty reduction, services exporting, national export strategy development, public-private partnerships, textiles and clothing, market analysis, South-South trade, e-trade and sensitization about WTO issues were among the areas of interest in trade development that were most frequently singled out at the meeting, which was chaired by Ambassador Sarala Fernando of Sri Lanka.

    Among new approaches to incorporate in ITC's work in Africa are its response to the Blair Commission for Africa report and new strategies for promising export areas for LDCs, such as cultural exports, eco-tourism and other environmental exports.

    Noting how delivery increased by 82% over four years, representatives encouraged ITC in its current "managed growth" strategy, to ensure that both countries and ITC would develop the capacities to sustain and absorb growth. Some representatives remarked on the United Nations (UN) Office of Internal Oversight Services inspection report on ITC, with its suggestion that ITC might be a model for other UN bodies.

    Focus on Doha, Hong Kong and beyond

    How should the business sector organize itself to assist its negotiators at the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Conference? How can ITC best help businesses to compete, whatever the outcome of Hong Kong? These were some of the questions that ambassadors and government and business leaders from the developing world addressed at a special mid-week session.

    Getting the right market information and creating a culture for business-government dialogue can make a real difference in helping developing country negotiators prepare for WTO meetings, noted delegates and speakers.

    Among the practical examples debated, the Mauritian Ambassador, S.B.C. Servansing, told the group how Mauritius used ITC's sophisticated market analysis tools to analyse its "vulnerability to preference erosion". The collaboration led to a "vulnerability index" based on a new methodology that identified products and markets most vulnerable to change. Calling it "contagious", he noted that the index is now used in his country's multilateral negotiations and has been extended to other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries with preferential access to European Union and United States markets. It culminated in an official ACP submission to the WTO group on market access, where it was well received for its pragmatism.

    A speaker from Uganda emphasized the new attention being paid to the role of trade in his country, which now accounts for a third of the economy. Uganda's Government is nearly tripling the resources it devotes to trade development in the next year. Part of the success behind this new sensitization has been the country's inter-institutional committee in place since 1998, supported by UNCTAD, WTO and ITC. The committee has become a forum not just for WTO issues, but also for a wide range of trade issues, such as reviews of domestic policies with an impact on trade.

    Participants from Argentina, Bulgaria, Pakistan and other countries cited similar trends in setting up mechanisms to help business understand the impact of WTO rules and work with governments in developing negotiating positions, thanks to ITC's business advocacy programmes.

    Often, the challenges to the business community begin after negotiations are over. With new rules in place, businesses must adjust their response to be competitive. The end of quotas in the textiles and clothing industry is a case in point. Countries as diverse as Bangladesh, El Salvador, Indonesia, Mauritius, Pakistan and Sri Lanka mentioned concerns about the threat to livelihoods.

    A.S.M. Quasem, head of Newage Group, a major garment producer in Bangladesh, told the group, "You will see many small textiles and clothing-producing countries wiped off the map unless something is done." Building regional links, better sourcing and product development skills, and faster customs clearance and port procedures are among solutions that can help LDCs develop a stronger competitive position.

    ITC as a bridge

    ITC's role as a bridge in helping trade work as a positive force for development came through at the meeting. Participants cited it as a bridge between WTO and the business community; a bridge among TPOs as sustainable players in national trade development; a bridge between preparing market access negotiations and developing the ability to supply markets, through public-private partnerships.

    Contributions to ITC

    Several governments announced contributions to ITC: Canada, the People's Republic of China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

    For more information, see ITC's web site, http://www.intracen.org and look for JAG 2005.