• home

    ITC: Building Capacity for Trade


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2000

    In Cotonou, Benin, experts and trainers discuss customs valuation, rules of origin and pre-shipment inspection at a JITAP workshop.

    Trade is growing in visibility and importance in the development agenda in international forums, donor capitals and, most importantly, in developing and transition economies themselves. WTO trade ministers in Seattle and UNCTAD member countries in Bangkok made it clear that our partner countries need much more technical assistance to integrate into the multilateral trading system. Trade-related capacity building needs to be more broadly available for governments, enterprises and business support institutions.

    ITC is prepared for this challenge, which is our fundamental mission. Our approach emphasizes demand-based, generic programmes, customized to country-specific circumstances by national partners. Our 'product-network' approach involves participatory development, widespread application and continuing refinement of tools, in cooperation with national trade support institutions and enterprises. This method makes our global programmes, such as World Tr@de Net and JITAP (the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme of ITC, UNCTAD and WTO), more effective and broad-reaching. This will be even more true as we harness communications technologies now becoming available to us.

    Our capacity-building efforts will be successful only if we help a large number of countries integrate effectively into the global economy in concrete, measurable ways. Our contribution can be substantial - but to make it happen, we need strong, cooperative relationships. We will need to rely on traditional broad-ranging partnerships with UNCTAD, WTO and UNDP. We are also forming more targeted alliances with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat, l'Agence intergouverne-mentale de la Francophonie, the World Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, and some bilateral programmes. The support of our traditional trust-fund donors has allowed us to renew our own capacities, which means that we are now in a better position to make an important contribution to partner countries. This support is of paramount importance to our future effectiveness.

    ITC's capacity-building focus

    Understanding WTO rules

    Mastering the business implications of the multilateral trading system (MTS) is a must if developing countries are to benefit from it. Countries need to build up a national core of expertise in MTS issues, so that business views are appropriately reflected in national trade policies and international negotiations. The key to capacity building in this vital area is to create interactive, national networks of trainers and experts in WTO Agreements from business, government and academia. ITC nurtures such networks and provides information, reference materials and ready-to-use training packs on specific WTO Agreements through World Tr@de Net and JITAP. Activities are under way in 20 World Tr@de Net and JITAP countries. A new ITC partnership with the World Bank Institute's Global Distance Learning Network should allow for even more cost-effective, expanded outreach. Regional and global electronic networking will enhance sustainability.

    National export strategies

    Countries need cutting-edge export strategies so that national stakeholders can take advantage of emerging trade opportunities. To contribute to this process, ITC has Trade Maps and other tools that match national products with international market potential, assess supply potential and constraints, and map out steps to put products into markets. ITC also has training materials expressly for sectoral and business-level strategy formulation. Our first Executive Forum on the theme Redefining Trade Promotion - The Need for a Strategic Response showcased best practices in formulating and managing effective export strategies. It explored institutional linkages and functional relationships and approaches to build consensus, commitment and partnerships between the public and private sectors, among trade support institutions and within the business community. (Highlights are available in the publication, Redefining Trade Promotion - The Need for a Strategic Response, in a recent issue of ITC's Forum magazine, and on ITC's web site)

    Reinforcing trade support institutions

    Countries require effectively functioning networks of trade support institutions to underpin programmes that enhance national export performance. These institutions are the key to strategy formulation, trade information dissemination, training and advice in all aspects of the export pro-cess. Comparative advantage generally suggests a central role for private-service providers. Reinforcing trade support institutions to service the business community is central to ITC's mission. The approach is to train partners in the use of diagnostic tools, learning systems and databases that they then adapt and use at enterprise level. ITC's Foundation Programme training modules and associated diagnostic and planning tools are now being used for master trainers to train trade tutors either in their own country or elsewhere. National training and consultancy capacities in import techniques can now benefit from ITC's Modular Learning System in International Purchasing and Supply Management. Capacity building in trade information services is carried out in the context of ITC's new Strategy for Trade Information. Trade support ser-vices must be based on well-identified needs of exporters and importers, for which ITC provides assessment tools and methodologies.

    Enterprise competitiveness

    ITC builds enterprise competitiveness in partnership with trade support institutions that provide services needed by exporters and importers. Given at enterprise level, integrated support links training, counselling and information to assistance to help support institutions achieve capacity-building and multiplier effects. In addition to these core activities, ITC has developed business performance tools, such as Trade Secrets: the Export Answer Book and is now working on additional question-answer books, notably for the export of automotive products, food processing and quality, and trade in ser-vices. A question-answer book on electronic commerce will be complemented by an international listserv-based network of experts and organizations, as well as by an on-line catalogue of products and services.

    Sectoral trade performance

    Improving sectoral trade performance involves strengthening sectoral business associations in exporting countries. All ITC's commodity-related activities are under-taken in partnership with national and international commodity organizations. For example, a successful Internet coffee auction was organized under the auspices of the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association. As a result of ITC's activities in the African leather sector, the African Federation of Leather and Allied Industries was created, along with two regional associations, which have begun training programmes and business contact promotion. Following several ITC-supported, sectoral buyers-sellers meetings for Arab countries, involving a learning-by-doing process, the Arab Trade Financing Programme indicated that it is now fully capable of pursuing these activities on its own. Other such examples could be cited.

    Capacity building applied

    ITC applies capacity-building approaches in its global programmes; in a unique, multi-country undertaking, JITAP; and in other regional and country-specific projects. Cost-effectiveness is a key consideration, but the specific needs and attributes of partner countries, themselves, dictate the content and condition the approach used.

    Programmes such as World Tr@de Net and the Programme for Competitiveness Improvement of SMEs demonstrate that sustainable capacities can be built through global programmes, cost-effectively and for a large number of countries. ITC's South-South Trade Promotion Programme also customizes proven methodologies and tools for use by partner institutions. The programme for Capacity Building and Networking for Business Information Services, which should start very soon, foresees collaboration with UNCTAD in trade information dissemination and with WTO in the improvement of capabilities of partner countries in obtaining information on market access conditions.

    JITAP, a country-based programme implemented jointly with WTO and UNCTAD, is developing and adapting a set of techniques and materials. They are designed to help partner countries develop capacities to handle MTS issues, implement WTO Agreements, formulate sectoral and enterprise-level strategies, and provide facilitative services to exporters. Capacity building is advanced through synergies among national activities amplified through national networks of trainers and experts in MTS issues. Synergies from country to country are also built into the programme by virtue of simultaneous implementation across seven countries, using the same delivery mechanisms and management apparatus for economies of scale. Results from a recent survey to see whether capacity-building objectives were on track suggest that more active and deliberate action is needed to encourage programme synergies.

    Capacity-building activities need to be based, above all, on the particular needs and capacities of partner countries. In Viet Nam, a step-by-step approach is being followed to create awareness of the elements required for successful export promotion. Dialogue between private and public sectors on various issues, including their respective roles, enterprise and support service needs analysis and selected sectoral strategy formulation and key training activities will be prerequisites before embarking on a more comprehensive programme. Several least developed countries (LDCs), for example Bhutan and Lesotho, are encouraging private-public sector consultations on strategic approaches and priorities, to provide a basis for programme activities within the Integrated Framework. Similar approaches will be taken in several francophone LDCs with the financial support of the Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie.

    Improving ITC's capacity to deliver

    ITC attaches the utmost importance to enhancing its own capacities to respond to the vast and increasing needs of developing countries and economies in transition. ITC's evaluation programme is being supplemented with more aggressive project monitoring and internal management reviews. At the same time, it is introducing more rigour in programme planning. New internal guidelines for conducting needs assessment and project design exercises were recently issued. These guidelines constitute the basis for ITC's programming effort and the point of reference in its project approval process.

    ITC is working to address programme issues systematically. On the basis of evaluations of past rural export development projects and current experience, it has identified constraints and conditions for success in empowering poor communities by linking their entrepreneurial and production capacities to export markets. ITC has developed a comprehensive approach to export-led poverty reduction, which involves linking groups of poor producers to export markets. ITC's expertise and experience in this area should open new opportunities for cooperating with UNDP and the World Bank.

    ITC is learning from, and contributing to, forward-thinking on capacity building within several forums, in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee, which is reviewing best practices in building capacities for trade development, and in the Committee of Donor Agencies for Small Enterprise Development, which exchanges experience and undertakes research on building capacities among business services providers.

    ITC is attentive to developments in tele-communications technologies and their potential implications for programme delivery, as well as for the evolving requirements of business communities in partner countries. On the one hand, ITC works closely with the World Bank Institute's Global Distance Learning Network to harness this extraordinary potential in favour of trade development. On the other hand, it has embarked on a systematic review of the prospects for, and the implications of, e-commerce applications in partner countries. Preparations for the next ITC Executive Forum on the theme Trade Promotion in the Digital Economy are well under way.

    To facilitate the translation of programme development into actual programmes, resources are necessary. ITC stands ready to cooperate closely with donors, including on joint needs assessments or joint projects, as it is doing with a growing number of bilateral development agencies.

    These remarks are based upon the address of J. Denis Bélisle, Executive Director of ITC, to the 33rd session of the ITC Joint Advisory Group, in April 2000.