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    From Reform to Ef fective Delivery


    ITC Year in Review
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 

    Our Annual Report starts by saying that 1998 was "a year during which ITC progressed from building up organizational strengths to transferring these strengths to its operational programmes, one during which its focus moved from administrative reform and basic retooling to its main mission: the effective delivery of its field programmes". To elaborate on these points, I will first take stock of our assets today. I will then suggest how ITC can enhance its operational activities at country level.

    ITC's assets today 

    ITC's mandate today is as relevant as ever. Businesses in developing countries need help to best take advantage of the new Multilateral Trading System. In carrying out its mandate, ITC has a clearly defined target group: SMEs in developing and transitional economies and the trade support organizations that service them.

    Our six areas of specialization and evolving strategies give us focus and help us define our priorities.

    With some 35 years of experience, we understand trade-related technical assistance needs and have a regenerated capacity to undertake practical work, in high demand throughout the developing world, at the operational level. Helping partner countries to design and implement projects is our business and we are learning to coordinate inputs from several agencies in joint projects.

    Our new technical assistance tools are helping us to discharge our mandate at a consistently high standard, and with reduced lead time and costs at the national level. These tools and methodologies, applied to areas such as product and market development, the promotion of South-South trade, trade information and competitiveness improvement, represent a solid and growing substantive base for ITC's value-added interventions within tailor-made country programmes. These tools and our related strategic 'product-network' approach constitute a cost-effective technique for maximizing ITC's outreach and achieving national capacity-building.

    The Global Trust Fund has made it possible for ITC to expand and refine its array of tools and to undertake operational activities addressing the collective needs of client countries.

    The Fund also provides the flexibility needed to meet urgent requirements and to undertake needs assessments and formulate tailor-made projects at country level.

    Finally, 34 new professional and 10 general service staff, men and women with specialized skills and experience have joined ITC in the last two years. They come from around the world and bring with them refreshing ideas and enthusiasm for our work.

    To sum up, ITC has introduced new management processes, strengthened its core competencies, re-engineered its tools and approaches to respond more effectively to the clearly expressed needs of its clientele, and has been rejuvenated with the arrival of new staff. ITC's comparative advantages and value-added input are becoming apparent to all. In addition to the strengths deriving from its institutional status, ITC has acquired substantial experience to deliver unique services in its areas of specialization and to facilitate access to the expertise of others through networking. We believe that we have reached the point where we can handle more work more effectively.

    How do we now move forward to increase our operational activities at the country level?

    Enhancing operational activities 

    Our number one objective is to achieve the broadest possible impact in a larger number of beneficiary countries. More countries should benefit from the type of support provided through the Joint ITC/UNCTAD/WTO Integrated Technical Assistance Programme in Selected Least-Developed and Other African Countries (JITAP) and more countries should benefit from comprehensive tailor-made programmes.

    ITC, like many other agencies in the United Nations system, has been experiencing a sharp decrease in extrabudgetary resources. Over the last five years, trust fund contributions have remained stagnant while UNDP funding has continued to decline. It is unfortunate that these trends have emerged at a time when our clients need more help than ever.

    This means that additional efforts are required on several fronts. First, we will commit ourselves to continuous strengthening of our capacity to deliver our services in line with the priorities of partner countries. Second, we will help partner countries link trade promotion to other national economic development policies and strategies. Third, we will intensify ITC's needs assessments and project design efforts at country level. Finally, we will, in parallel, implement a strategy to mobilize and optimize resources through partnerships with parent bodies, other technical cooperation agencies and donors. On this last point, I should like to focus on the steps we need to take.

    Effective project design 

    We will involve potential donors to the extent possible in the project formulation process to arrive at a common understanding of the trade-related needs of developing and transitional economies and of how they relate to ITC's capabilities and the donors' own policies and priorities. In this exercise, the active involvement and commitment of the beneficiaries themselves will go a long way towards marshalling donor support.

    We will be alert to opportunities to diversify resource mobilization through special funding arrangements. The Global Trust Fund, one such mechanism, has been very successful and will continue to be a key funding mechanism for large theme-based programmes. The Common Trust Fund, which finances the country-level JITAP programme, is another such innovative mechanism.

    UN partnerships 

    We are ready to intensify our cooperation with WTO and UNCTAD. We are responding with enthusiasm to suggestions that we share the technical cooperation programme of WTO to the full extent of our competence and ability. Our new World Trade Net programme, funded by the Global Trust Fund, will be a concrete example of this. The JITAP programme has set the basis for more structured collaboration between WTO, UNCTAD and ITC at the field level. The Integrated Framework for LDCs encourages common needs assessments and joint programme formulation. It allows ITC to bring to bear the business perspective in the design and implementation of trade development strategies as well as its project coordination capacity. We are also intensifying our cooperation with UNIDO and will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with it shortly. We are pursuing joint projects with the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNESCO and are currently engaged in a dialogue with ILO to identify specific areas of collaboration.

    To illustrate our joint programming work and the potential for synergy and collaboration, ITC presented the concepts, structure and elements of the Integrated Framework and JITAP to the meeting of the Joint Advisory Group. Another example is the Virtual Conference we conducted in April focusing on the business implications of anti-dumping and electronic commerce. Delegates to the meeting could participate through the Internet Café organized in the hall outside the meeting.

    Private sector partnerships 

    We are working to bring into better perspective the contribution trade development can make to the fulfilment of common concerns such as poverty alleviation, gender equality, environmental protection and entrepreneurship development. Our work on export-led poverty reduction opens up new and promising avenues in this regard. We expect a better understanding of ITC's potential contribution to sustainable human development to lead to increased cooperation with UNDP, although trade promotion as such is likely to remain a subsidiary issue in UNDP programming.

    We are exploring new routes to partnership with the private sector and civil society. One example is our collaboration with the World Economic Forum in the organization of "buyers-sellers" meetings in Africa. We will pursue systematically the initiatives launched at UNCTAD's Partners for Development meeting in Lyon and we will bring our full support to UNCTAD X private-sector initiatives. We are currently holding discussions with UNDP to participate in its Private Sector Development Programme, notably for the wide application of the International Competitiveness Gauge, a successful benchmarking tool developed by ITC. We have recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Assembly of SMEs. ITC's cooperation with non-governmental organizations, in particular in export-led poverty reduction, will generally be intensified to increase ITC's outreach.

    It is obvious, indeed, that such opportunities will continue to materialize only to the extent that we have credible and useful technical assistance products and expertise to offer. We will use this capacity to advance programmes for the benefit of our developing country partners.

    As an example, in a recent initiative on public procurement we were able to bring together the major actors, including several multilateral financial institutions. It culminated in the African Conference on Public Procurement Reform, a watershed event to be followed by technical assistance at the subregional and country levels with the support of the World Bank, the African Development Bank and UNDP.

    We were also able to set the mechanisms for improved coordination of international assistance in the leather sector and to organize Meet in Africa, the first All-Africa Leather Fair and Conference. We will take more of these initiatives.

    Fast-changing trade promotion needs 

    Given the fast-changing environment for technical assistance driven in part by new technologies, we will remain in constant touch with the needs of our partners. For instance, we are now in the process of determining the role ITC should play in electronic commerce and, more generally, in bringing the benefits of information technology within the grasp of exporting SMEs. We will be hosting in Annecy in September ITC's first Executive Forum on National Export Strategies which will provide us with a special opportunity to review issues of linkages between trade promotion and development strategies.

    Management tools 

    Our ideas and initiatives are translated into detailed action plans reflected in ITC's planning and management tools. Our core service strategies are used as a means to focus our efforts and to better communicate with stakeholders, including potential donors. Our Medium-Term Plan reflects what ITC intends to accomplish with its existing resources and what it could additionally achieve if corresponding resources are made available.

    In a nutshell, these are our plans for the immediate future. I want to thank the ITC staff for their imagination, determination and hard work and our stakeholders for their support in getting us to this point.

    I would like to express appreciation to Mr. Ricupero of UNCTAD and Mr. Ruggiero of WTO for their support. Special thanks to Mr. Ruggiero, who has just retired from WTO. His support has been a great source of encouragement and a key factor in the unprecedented level of collaboration we now enjoy with the WTO Secretariat.

    This article is adapted from the speech delivered by J. Denis Bélisle, Executive Director of ITC, at the most recent meeting of the Joint Advisory Group.