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    LDCs - Jump-starting Trade


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2001

    It's unlikely that anyone who attended the ITC Business Sector Round Table (Brussels, 16 May) at the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries did not come away encouraged by the inventiveness, ingenuity, perseverance and energy of entrepreneurs in even the poorest of developing countries. We heard from a Nepalese venture capitalist who nurtures and trains new entrepreneurs, a Tanzanian who has virtually created an international market for indigenous gemstones, a Samoan woman who has found a niche in the United States health food market for a local fruit juice, and a Haitian who has become the world's biggest exporter of perfume essence, among many others. As we learned later, several of the entrepreneurs used the occasion to explore business opportunities and network among themselves.

    For international organizations there were messages, too. A perhaps surprising number of these entrepreneurial successes got their start or were helped along the way by United Nations bodies, national development cooperation agencies and other organizations in the international community. Aid agencies helped the future business leaders to analyse markets, draw up business plans that led to essential loans, finance exploratory trips to potential markets, set out on international missions to talk with buyers, participate in trade fairs, train staff, and hire consultants on developing their companies. Similarly, a number of the problems the entrepreneurs ran up against came from the lack of an international agency that could smooth their way in negotiating the obstacles, whether these were international regulations or the lack of access to finance.

    The success stories refute the argument that business in developing countries and economies in transition can be left to sort itself out; that national support agencies are sufficient; or that international organizations are redundant, particularly at the practical level. Without exaggerating its role, ITC can take pride in that a number of LDC success stories can be traced back to our efforts at disseminating 'best practice', helping exporters to acquire export knowledge and skills, and contributing to export-friendly policies and strategies. An Ethiopian cut-flowers entrepreneur researched the potential of his business partly through ITC. In Togo, a Forum reader successfully established a translation business after reading about how to innovate as a services provider. We hope this issue will encourage many more similar successes.