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    ITC's Annual Meeting Features Solutions to Bridge the Digital Divide


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

    ITC officially launched its "E-trade Bridge" programme at its annual intergovernmental meeting, the Joint Advisory Group (Geneva, 30 April to 4 May 2001). The meeting also launched its "new" web site, which was redesigned to better serve ITC's clients.

    New E-trade Bridge programme
    The new E-trade Bridge programme was presented during the annual meeting in order to encourage feedback and partnerships. Designed to help developing country firms bridge the digital divide, the programme is based on year-long dialogue with firms, trade development bodies and e-trade experts. It especially drew from ITC's annual Executive Forum, which focused last year on "Export Development in the Digital Economy".

    Mr J. Denis Bélisle, ITC's Executive Director, explained the "why" behind the programme. "In the area of international trade, there has been a fundamental change. We have been living in a business world where big fish used to eat small fish. We are now entering a world where fast fish eat slow ones. Fast fish are born everywhere, North and South. They are the result of imagination, creativity and technology. Creativity is very high in the developing world and applied technology can be purchased at lower prices all the time. This, in my view, presents a unique opportunity for the business community of the developing world. They need to understand and make effective use of technol-ogies to improve their business prospects."

    "Encouraging the crea-tion of 'innovation capital' is a key to increasing developing country trade," added Paul Kukubo, head of 3 Mice Interactive Media, Africa Online's e-commerce arm, and a participant in ITC's most recent Executive Forum. "A shortage of resources and an abundance of intelligence is a reality in Africa. The challenge is to convert the intelligence into innovation. Innovation is about attitude - using intelligence to get around the scarcity of resources. Netpreneurs - young, intelligent, digitally savvy and entrepreneurial - can go a long way in sparking new business. Encouraging 'netpreneurs' should be a national priority," he said.

    ITC was encouraged to create an e-trade "road show" for donor countries as well as developing nations, based on the e-trade presentation provided during the annual meeting. Representatives found that it highlighted challenges, opportunities and e-solutions from a developing country perspective. A road show would help foster further partnerships with both the public and private sectors.

    The programme offers countries a flexible portfolio of training, advisory and information services that can be adapted to meet the needs of developing countries, depending on each country's stage of e-readiness. It helps countries take advantage of new trade opportunities in sectors such as services, music and film, as well as new ways of using technology to transform traditional export businesses.

    Annual review confirms ITC's practical orientation

    The annual meeting - led by the Chair, Ms A. Filip of Romania; Ms H. Saha, India and Mr N. Irumba, Uganda, Vice-Chairs; and Mr S. Traavik, Norway, Rapporteur, and attended by 198 representatives from 84 countries and 17 international bodies - reviewed ITC's work programme in 2000 and debated the challenges ahead. In addition to e-trade, representatives displayed strong interest in trade-related programmes for least developed countries (LDCs); and future directions for the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme (JITAP) of ITC, UNCTAD and WTO. Underlying all discussions were references to ITC's partnership orientation; the pragmatism and quality of its programmes; and concern about resources.

    Boosting trade among LDCs

    UNCTAD's Secretary General, Mr Rubens Ricupero, urged donor countries to devote more resources to trade, and noted that "th rhetoric about the centrality of trade as a tool for development" had not been backed by action from donor countries, since less than 3% of their technical cooperation was devoted to trade.

    "A good place to start correcting this situation is with LDCs, as their exports account for less than 0.5% of global exports," he said. "ITC undertakes important work on behalf of LDCs, as LDCs account for

    nearly 40% of ITC's overall assistance."

    Continue with effective partnerships

    Representatives singled out ITC's responsiveness to requests from its stakeholders, ranging from a more business-like, analytical annual report, to close working partnerships in designing national programmes (such as JITAP) and international events (such as the Executive Forum).

    Several representatives noted ITC's efforts to join other organizations in their trade development programmes and involve these organizations as partners in ITC activities. This was rare in the UN system and was highly appreciated.

    WTO Deputy Director, Mr Ablassé Ouedraogo, highlighted the "constantly enhanced" cooperation between WTO, UNCTAD and ITC and their complementary roles. When it comes to increasing exports for developing countries, "ITC deals with the bottom line," he noted. "It is here that ITC holds centre stage." He noted cooperation between ITC and WTO on "what is now a significant number of joint programmes". He also commended ITC's "particularly impressive record in 2000 in building team work, providing specialized support to other organizations and in joining partnerships to design and implement technical assistance."

    Voluntary contributions

    Several governments announced voluntary contributions to ITC: Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The Governments of Italy and the United Kingdom noted that funding proposals were under active consideration.

    ITC was congratulated by many on the effective management of its limited resource base. To help ITC in predicting resource availability, several donors pledged their funding commitments on a multi-year basis. Several representatives encouraged ITC to be more active in exploring new sources of funding.

    For more information, contact Elaine Bisson, ITC External Relations Officer, at bisson@intracen.org

    Further reading

    - ITC's new book, Export Development in the Digital Economy, available online from http://www.intracen.org/execforum. The web site also contains surveys, country briefs, electronic discussions, interviews with experts and other information about e-trade opportunities and challenges in developing countries.

    - ITC's annual report, available online from http://www.intracen.org/jag2001