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    ITC: Year in Review


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2001

    ITC supports developing and transition economies in their efforts to compete effectively in the international marketplace. We strongly believe that this contributes to sustainable development and we are committed to providing first-class technical support initiatives impacting on both trade performance and overall development.

    Increased capacity to compete, proactive involvement in the international supply chain and the promise of reaping the full benefit of the multilateral trading system are what our clients are looking for and what drives our overall approach to technical cooperation.

    Building partnerships

    We are a small and compact organization with a highly specialized mandate, and we recognize that the development challenge requires broad-based support. We are therefore also in the business of partnership-building. We see our role as one of a team player. We recognize that working with other technical assistance agencies, bilateral and multilateral, is one of the best ways of ensuring impact and of making a lasting developmental contribution. In 2000, we worked hard at developing and strengthening these partnerships. The effort is being maintained in 2001.

    The year 2000 confirmed, without doubt, the relevance of the ITC product-network approach, a pioneering effort to achieve the widest possible impact from trade-related technical assistance at the least possible cost. During the year, every one of our specialized networks grew well beyond our expectations. Collaboration with network partners led to the local adaptation of our tools at an accelerated rate. This type of collaboration also helped ensure that we interacted continuously with our clients on their specific needs and priorities.

    E-facilitated trade development

    The development of these networks led to another major achievement in 2000: our increasingly effective use of the Internet to deliver our technical assistance. We did not master all the techniques and we have yet to explore all the possibilities. Yet, cyber-collaboration, in 2000, became a key aspect of our technical cooperation programme. The Internet is now for us a major means to achieve greater reach. E-discussions were used to develop views on best practice, to share experience and to generate ideas with network partners. Videoconferencing facilitated network interaction.

    Cyber-collaboration also gave us direct experience with confronting the so-called "digital divide". In developing our own e-capabilities, we found that many of our clients did not have the same opportunities to achieve e-competency. We gained first-hand knowledge of the constraints they continue to face. And we were able to determine what we could, and should, do about it. Our e-facilitated trade development strategy was finalized and piloted.

    Multilateral approaches to build trade capacity

    Another major accomplishment in 2000 was the consolidation of our position as a first-team player in multilateral efforts to build trade-related capacities in developing, and particularly least developed, countries. The Joint ITC/UNCTAD/WTO Integrated Technical Assistance Programme (JITAP) in eight African countries has proven to be not only an effective programme, but also a model for how specialized agencies, with different mandates and complementary approaches, can collaborate in the implementation of trade-related technical assistance. The model requires consistent and strong donor support. We look forward to building on this model and applying it in other circumstances.

    We continued to work closely with the five other core agencies involved in finding ways to implement the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countries. Since the transfer of the Framework's administrative unit to WTO, our contribution has focused more directly on our areas of expertise and we look forward to continued active involvement in that capacity over the years ahead.

    Competitiveness tools

    Finally, I should like to mention our attainment in 2000 of a critical mass in the development of tools to support the international competitiveness of the individual firm. Over the past several years, we have invested heavily in terms of staff time in devising tools that individual entrepreneurs and their business associations with export ambitions can use to assess their firm's and their industry's export readiness, benchmark their capabil-ities against industry and international norms, improve their knowledge of international business practices, prepare their international business plans and develop their export management skills. In combination, these, we believe, can make a real contribution to the export capabilities and export performance of the individual firm.

    Newly launched web site

    We have constructed a new, attractive and user-friendly web site. Our site provides online access to a wealth of information, guidance and references. It includes concrete product and market information, a powerful suite of market analysis tools, our magazine, Trade Forum, in three languages, and many other sources of competitiveness-enhancing support information. The site statistics on Forum for March 2001 give us telling insight into its readership: over 50,000 hits from 112 countries in one month, with a clear indication of the popularity of articles on networking and e-trade. This type of feedback, combined with similar information from other sources, presents us with a fast and valuable complement to traditional evaluation mechanisms.

    ISO 9000 review

    We have launched a programme based on ISO 9000 to ensure a client orientation in our publishing activities. These efforts are being undertaken in close collaboration with experts from the ISO secretariat. A first in the United Nations system, I am told.

    Future directions

    Enterprise competitiveness

    I mentioned earlier that we had reached critical mass in the development of our tools. These will now be consolidated into various multifaceted packages to take full advantage of the potential they hold for synergies among themselves and with other programmes. In collaboration with UNCTAD, for instance, we plan to see how our tools for the enhancement of enterprise competitiveness can be of help at the overall national level.

    Executive Forum

    Support to the formulation and management of national export strategy has become an increasing area of demand. We shall continue to refine our strategy- formulation methodologies and training tools at the sectoral and enterprise levels in the course of providing country-level support under existing programmes.

    To reinforce this capacity, we have decided to mainstream into our overall technical cooperation programme the highly successful Executive Forum concept, with special attention paid to country-level follow-up.

    We are pleased that ITC's largest donor, Switzerland, has made it possible for us to go down that route by agreeing to join us in a full partnership under which we shall jointly host the Executive Forum for the next three years.


    We intend to build momentum rapidly on implementing the E-Trade Bridge programme and look forward to donor interest and support. We shall also use the ITC web site increasingly to supplement our delivery of technical assistance. We shall launch, in the months ahead, our web-based product maps, the latest and most powerful of our market analysis tools.


    The growing, and often underemphasized, market for services is another area to which ITC will direct increasing attention.

    Joint technical assistance

    We hope to be given the opportunity to prepare for a second generation of activities under the successful JITAP model for joint technical assistance. We shall adapt this methodology to the other programmes we are developing for other parts of the world. On the Integrated Framework, we are glad to see the recent rise in enthusiasm on the part of several donors and wish to assure all of our continued commitment to the programme. We look forward to contributing in our specialized way to the comprehensive approaches of the larger multilateral organizations to mainstreaming trade into the overall national planning process.

    Emphasis on LDCs

    Finally, we shall redouble our targeted efforts to provide relevant, concrete and high-impact support to least developed countries (LDCs). Already, 40% of our technical assistance activities are aimed at LDCs. Our Business Sector Round Table at the UN Conference for Least Developed Countries, LDC III, (Brussels, May 2001) identified export opportunities for LDCs, despite their many constraints to export expansion and international competitiveness. The round table generated new ideas and practical solutions, and is serving as a springboard for future developments.

    We look forward to expanding our technical cooperation activities, to forming new and wider partnerships, and to developing technical cooperation programmes jointly with interested donors and beneficiaries.

    J. Denis Bélisle is ITC's Executive Director. This article is adapted from his opening statement at the thirty-fourth session of the Joint Advisory Group on the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO on 30 April 2001.