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    In Beijing, Networking for Trade Development


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2002 

    J. Denis Bélisle, ITC Executive Director, meets HE Zhu Rongji, Premier of China.

    How best can national trade promotion organizations contribute to trade development and poverty reduction? How best can they contribute to national competitiveness, in a fast-changing trade environment?

    These were the underlying questions debated at the 4th World Conference of Trade Promotion Organizations, held in Beijing from 13 to 15 May 2002. Jointly organized by the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) and ITC, the meeting brought together over 500 participants from more than 60 countries and regions, plus 200 special guests attending keynote sessions.

    Trade promotion organizations (TPOs), chambers of commerce, industry associations, companies and the local diplomatic community were in attendance. The meeting, hosted by CCPIT, served as the occasion to mark its 50th anniversary.

    "TPOs have been playing an important role in the promotion of international trade and development," noted Yu Xiaosong, CCPIT Chairman, in his message to participants. "Now, it seems that the challenges we are facing have mounted to a new level and we must address them in a timely fashion."

    New approaches 

    Continued rapid investment flows, international trade liberalization and technology developments bring new business challenges. At the same time, there have been signs of protectionism while economic recovery has been fragile. Against this backdrop, speakers cited a trend towards declining public funds for national trade promotion organizations, as well as competition to provide similar services.

    What are the responses? Stronger links between trade and investment, reported Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Singapore and others. Emerging links between trade development and poverty reduction, reported France and Japan. A continued focus on SME clients, reported most TPOs, which includes new approaches to customer service, evaluation and feedback, and new technology applications. Some TPOs sounded a note of caution: business mindsets and practices must evolve to take full advantage of new digital opportunities.

    TPOs are retraining and redeploying staff and upgrading information networks to meet the challenges; they are also exploring new options for pricing of services.

    The conference sparked greater networking between TPOs, ranging from the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the TPOs of China and Côte d'Ivoire, to Cuba's offer to host a Caribbean regional conference to continue networking. The conference facilitated exchanges of TPO experiences, which continue through regional TPO groupings, as well as through the TPO Net web site (http://www.tpo-net.com) and Trade Forum magazine.

    From Cartagena to Santiago, Marrakech, Beijing... and Malta 

    The World Conference of TPOs is held every two years. Previous meetings took place in Cartagena, Colombia in 1996; Santiago, Chile in 1998; and Marrakech, Morocco in 2000.

    The next World Conference of TPOs will take place in Malta in 2004, and will be hosted by the Malta External Trade Corporation (METCO).

    The conference serves as a springboard to encourage TPO leaders to document and exchange best practices and to network internationally, regionally and bilaterally.

    ITC has accompanied all previous TPO world conferences and served as a co-organizer in 2000 and 2002.

    China encourages trade ties through conference 

    The Chinese Government accorded high political importance to the event, within its overall policy to encourage trade ties and foreign investment. HE President Jiang Zemin sent a message of support, stressing that TPOs can push development. "With the deepening of world economic globalization, trade promotion organizations can further strengthen exchanges and play active roles in promoting development of international economic and trade development," he noted.

    Premier Zhu Rongji met with participants and delivered a keynote address, encouraging developing countries to develop value-added exports by capitalizing on new opportunities to increase the technological content of their exports. He encouraged investment, particularly in the wake of China's recent accession to the World Trade Organization.

    Mme Wu Yi, State Counsellor of China, also delivered a welcoming speech to conference participants as the guest of honour at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People.

    China: trade helped development 

    The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), which celebrated its 50th anniversary in May, is a prime example of a dynamic TPO. Since its founding in 1952, it has played a vital role in promoting China's foreign trade and in attracting foreign investment. According to a recent WTO report, China has become the world's fourth largest trading power in goods and services (after the European Union, the United States and Japan). For the last nine years it has ranked as the highest recipient of foreign direct investment among all developing countries. CCPIT has contributed a lot to these achievements. Representing the interests of more than 70,000 Chinese enterprises, CCPIT's role has become even more crucial following China's accession to the WTO.

    Natalie Domeisen is Editor, International TradeTrade Forummagazine. She can be reached at domeisen@intracen.org