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    Mexico: Sharing the Key to Trade Secrets


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2004

    Photo: Bancomext Bancomext Executive Vice-President for International Promotion Gabriel Barrera saw the potential of a national version of Trade Secrets in an instant.

    Bancomext, the Mexican Bank for Foreign Trade, was the first ITC partner organization to produce a Spanish national version of the general guide for first-time exporters with financial support from several donors. It was also the first to produce related guides for specific export sectors.

    As Gabriel Barrera, the bank's Executive Vice-President for International Promotion, explained, once he heard about the product he immediately saw its value for his country's existing and would-be exporters and wanted a copy of the book

    Ramamurti Badrinath, ITC's Director of Trade Support Services and the driver behind the Trade Secrets project, explained: "But we haven't even translated it into Spanish yet."

    "Not a problem," Mr Barrera replied. "You let us have the guide and we'll translate it for you…"

    Here Gabriel Barrera talks to journalist Alison Clements-Hunt and Hema Menon, ITC's Associate Adviser on Enterprise Competitiveness, about working with ITC to answer trade information issues facing Mexican exporters.

    Question: When did you first come across the Trade Secrets concept?

    Mr Barrera:
    I was representing my country at ITC's annual meeting in 1998 when they told us about the Trade Secrets publication. I felt immediately that this was very important. It was a way to tell people concisely, clearly and in a concrete manner how to export. So, I went to see Mr Badrinath straight away and offered to translate the generic guide into Spanish so that everyone in Latin America could use it. I also wanted to adapt the guide to fit specific Mexican needs. We ended up being the first Spanish-speaking country to produce a national version.

    Question:Before you had the Trade Secrets publication, where could exporters or would-be exporters go for information?

    Mr Barrera:
    Bancomext has been in the business for 65 years. We are the reference point in Mexico. Our call centre gets 4,000 calls a month from people looking for answers to trade-related questions. There is not traditionally an information culture in our country, so one of our roles has been to try and build this. Before I came across Trade Secrets, we had published our own basic guide for exporters. This was an important tool and we sold many copies. But when I saw ITC's publication, I clearly saw a superior product that would be incredibly helpful to Mexico.

    Question:How did you go about adapting the generic guide for Mexico?

    Mr Barrera:
    One of the great things about this book was the methodology of choosing the 100 most frequently asked questions by business people in our country. Even more unique was the method of answering the questions in just one or two pages including recommendations for where to go for more information if needed. We wanted to do all this very professionally, so we hired a consulting company to carry out interviews with small business owners all over the country to make sure we were finding the top 100 questions. Then we brought together experts to make sure the answers given were the best possible.

    Question:How successful has the guide been in Mexico?

    Mr Barrera:
    We've already published two editions of the Mexican Trade Secrets guide because demand has been so great. In our call centres, we use young people, whom we hire from universities, to answer requests. They tell us that for every ten queries they receive, seven of them are answered from the Trade Secrets book - they use and trust this publication. Because we have found this so successful in our own call centres, we have made alliances with university information centres and chambers of commerce around the country and they too are now trained and using Trade Secrets. Because of this tool, we have alliances with more than 120 such bodies across Mexico. Embassies also use the guide to answer questions from their own national entrepreneurs working in Mexico who want to export from here to another country.

    As a bank, we always focus on the best way to manage our resources. Trade Secrets allows us to reduce our training time for employees working on our front desks - these people know that they are equipped with a good tool. And we can be sure that in our 32 offices around Mexico, people are getting the same answers to their questions, whether they are in the north, south, east or west. We want to know that we are sharing the same knowledge with our customers, wherever they are in the country. Trade Secrets allows us to do this.

    Question:Mexico was the first Trade Secrets partner organization to produce a product-specific version of the guide. What made you take that step?

    Mr Barrera:
    We were getting a lot of specific questions in two areas - processed foods and fresh foods. These questions weren't coming from the big cities, but from the north and south. So we decided that special editions were needed. We used the ITC methodology to adapt the guide and produced the Export Answer Book for the processed food and fresh food sectors. We want to do the same for other sectors but we need more time and resources.

    Question:In Cancún last year, you held a training course on Trade Secrets for other trade promotion organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. Can you tell us about that?

    Mr Barrera:
    In Latin America, we don't just share a language and culture. I was sure that people doing a similar job to mine in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala and other countries came across similar problems. We wanted to share our experiences. Running this training course allowed us to strengthen our relationships with people we knew and with some that we wanted to get to know. Trade Secrets is a solution we could share. Nine of the countries that attended this training session have now produced their own national version of the guide.

    Question:A large percentage of Mexican exports goes to the United States and Canada. Do you think Trade Secrets will help encourage entrepreneurs and exporters to look at other potential markets?

    Mr Barrera:
    It's true that almost 90% of Mexican trade is with North America. The first challenge we have is actually persuading Mexican entrepreneurs to export at all. The second is to persuade them to look further afield to new markets. In fact, there are a lot of opportunities for SMEs in Latin American countries and elsewhere. Maybe this is something we can emphasize more in the next edition of Trade Secrets.

    Question:Bancomext worked with ITC for a number of years. What difference has Trade Secrets made to your relationship with the organization?

    Mr Barrera:
    You can be sure that, in Bancomext, ITC is our point of reference for how to do things better. Working with ITC has also given us the chance to share what we have done with different countries. We are very grateful and proud of our relationship with the organization.

    Writer: Alison Clements-Hunt

    Organizations mentioned in this story: