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    Helping First-time Exporters


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2004

    Photo: ITC Language is the key: national trade promotion and business groups have adapted and translated ITC's Trade Secrets model to ensure that small exporters can access this resource in their own language.

    Successful exporting by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can be pivotal in bringing broader prosperity to developing countries, boosting economic vitality at community level and creating sustainable livelihoods for employees and their families. But while globalizing markets offer new opportunities for these small firms, a latticework world of complex regulations, standards and other trade barriers presents a series of formidable obstacles for companies seeking export markets. ITC's Trade Secrets guides provide information that helps these firms make the leap into international markets.

    Demystifying trade for small exporters

    The challenge of surmounting trade obstacles is felt most keenly by first-time exporters from developing and transition economies. For these companies, practical information can be hard to come by and is frequently buried in academic, technical or bureaucratic documents in language that is difficult to understand.

    In an effort to demystify the export process, ITC introduced the concept of Trade Secrets guides, which seek to answer the most commonly asked international trade questions in a concise and business-like manner. ITC's Trade Secrets: The Export Answer Book for SMEs has now been translated into ten languages and adapted to meet national requirements by partner organizations in 50 countries worldwide.

    A unique resource

    "Prior to producing a national version of Trade Secrets, 94% of countries involved had no business-level resource written for SME exporters by experts with SME experience," says Ramamurti Badrinath, ITC's Director of Trade Support Services. "The ITC formula has helped partner organizations to address information gaps for new and potential exporters."
    Highlights in the Trade Secrets approach include:

    • The development of a template of 100 generic "need-to-know" questions for SME exporters employing a standardized, easy-to-use format. Partner organizations can easily adapt these questions to meet national, regional and sector-specific needs.
    • ITC's partnership with credible and committed organizations - such as export promotion agencies, chambers of commerce, confederations of industry and banks.
    • ITC's insistence on a co-publishing approach for national versions, with partners agreeing to follow a specific methodology and contribute to the publication costs. This ensures national ownership and local value-added.
    • Relatively quick and inexpensive development of national versions. Typically, they take six to seven months to complete and cost approximately US$ 25,000.

    The original Trade Secrets template is now being adapted by both ITC and partner organi-zations to cover sector-specific export needs, such as for fresh and processed foods, automotive components and the export of services. In addition, topical Trade Secrets books address issues such as quality management, intellectual property, electronic commerce and the rules of the World Trade Organization trading system.

    The Trade Secrets approach results in more than a collection of answers to "frequently asked questions". It obliges trade service providers to really take note of the questions and concerns of SMEs. Partners are integrating the guides into training courses, and they have become a valuable tool for advice to exporters. The development of national and sector-specific guides has also prompted the formation of a Trade Secrets "network" with partners from as many as 100 countries that build capacity through shared information and knowledge.

    Two cases show different ways in which trade support institutions are using ITC's Trade Secrets concept to respond to the demands of the new global marketplace. In Mexico, ITC's partner is disseminating market insight and intelligence in a Mexican version of Trade Secrets. In Brazil, a topical version of the guide has helped steer exporters through the quality management maze.

    Writer: Alison Clements-Hunt

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