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    ITC at the World Summit on the Information Society


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003

    Summit participants find information at ITC's WSIS stand.

    Report of J. Denis Bélisle, ITC's Executive Director, at the Multistakeholder Plenary Session of the World Summit on the Information Society, held in Geneva in December 2003.

    The International Trade Centre is proud to report on "The Changing Marketplace: Putting 'E' to Work" and looks forward to contributing further to the Summit process as we move together into the second phase (Tunis, November 2005).

    I am here to voice the message of small business, the backbone of most developing countries' economies, as they expressed it in the interactive workshops we organized in partnership with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, as part of the ICT4D (ICT-for-development) platform.

    The workshops brought together business leaders and export strategy-makers from 30 developed and developing countries, to debate how small firms can put "e" to work, to grow their business through exports.

    Companies said that they know that information and communications technologies (ICTs) can help them become more competitive. What they wanted to know was how to put "e" to work. These firms do not have the choice to invest in "e" or not. For them to survive in tomorrow's business landscape, they must use ICTs.

    To keep the digital gap from widening, developing countries need to use their creativity and imagination to harness their natural assets and to exploit new opportunities.
    Companies told us they need:

    • a supportive, business-friendly environment;
    • "e"-focused national and sectoral export strategies; and
    • practical programmes to access new technologies - to put "e" to work.
    Whether we speak of exporting commodities, manufactured goods or services, applying technology makes a difference. It helps firms do better market research, streamline business processes, speed up payments and improve customer relations. Using ICTs also offers firms opportunities in new export sectors, such as back office operations, ICT components manufacturing and assembly, multimedia development and others.

    From policy to practice

    When asked what they need to raise the export potential of business, to turn policy into practice, they said:

    Create e-readiness conditions

    First, we must all work together to create the conditions for small firms to be competitive in the international economy. Governments need to create trust in the mechanics of e-trade. Exporters must have connectivity, computers and access to them at reasonable cost. They also need a computer-literate labour force.

    Include SMEs in trade development strategies

    Second, we must ensure that the voice of small business exporters is heard by policy-makers responsible for national trade development plans. Public-private partnerships are a must. Working with business helps strategy-makers understand industry needs, identify training required, and see the necessity to improve access to finance.

    Design practical programmes

    Third, we must have practical programmes for exporters to:
    • understand how to use technology to access global markets;
    • train staff in e-business, e-marketing and e-procurement;
    • understand implications of e-security, e-finance, e-payment and e-waste;
    • obtain inexpensive and easy software applications for SME exporters; and
    • benefit from opportunities to create regional or sectoral seller-driven marketplaces.
    They also need more support to learn from successful models to put "e" to work and more advocacy programmes to include e-trade issues among chambers of commerce, professional associations and governments.

    Putting "e" to work at WSIS

    ITC, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (seco) and the World Bank's infoDev programme joined forces at the World Summit on the Information Society to display their initiatives, products and e-champions in a symposium, interactive workshops and an interactive exhibit.

    ITC's E-Trade Bridge programme brought 50 participants from 30 countries to discuss national e-trade development strategies and programmes in a parallel, week-long series of events. ITC's exhibit sponsored e-champions from the Philippines, Nepal, Tunisia and India. The exhibit also featured those helping build e-marketplaces in Africa and Asia, and ITC's e-related materials, including its new Trade Forum magazine issue and new CD-ROM, Putting "e" to Work.

    With 15 country e-preparedness reports, one regional e-preparedness report, 19 country e-business resource DVDs, seven kick-off meetings, 60 "Winning with the Web" case studies, three "Winning with the Web" cases using "e" effectively, one strategists' training session and more... ITC's E-Trade Bridge programme launched a network based on regional hubs, national nodes and national members. Many potential partners have already asked to join the network to disseminate E-Trade Bridge materials and increase the reach of its field activities.

    For more information, contact R. Badrinath, Director of ITC's Division of Trade Support Services and the WSIS Coordinator, at badrinath@intracen.org