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    Morocco: New Roles for TPOs in the Digital Era


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

    The industries and countries that are already aboard the digital train are finding themselves on the fast track to better export performance. But many firms in developing countries are reluctant to get on board for a variety of reasons, ranging from high costs, access and trust to the need to change skills, structures and approaches. TPOs need to reorganize internally and offer new services to help SMEs bridge the digital divide. They also need to cooperate more closely, particularly regionally.

    The speed at which the digital economy is expanding and changing has widened the technological divide between developed and developing countries. Technological advances are redefining competitiveness at company and national levels and necessitating the development of new skills and new national export strategies to facilitate countries' long-term integration into the digital era.

    The widening digital gap

    Studies show a wide digital gap between developing and developed countries - a gap that may grow in the years ahead as developed countries move to ensure themselves the best share of this fast-growing market

    Most Internet users still live in industrialized countries, where access costs can be just one-tenth of what they are in developing countries. Other factors that widen the digital divide are the cost and lack of access to telecommunications, and the lack of supporting infrastructure, such as access to finance, an adequate legal framework, training and government services.

    Changing the business culture

    As more companies integrate the Internet into their activities, purchasers and suppliers in developing countries will need to adapt to new operating methods. To control these changes, rather than submitting to them, companies need to decentralize decision-making and skills. This is not simple in many developing countries, where traditional notions of authority and hierarchy can be deep-rooted.

    New TPO obligations

    The strong growth of e-facilitated trade is encouraging developing countries to implement national strategies tailored to their needs, with particular support to SMEs. These strategies can only be implemented with the direct involvement of the public sector in partnership with the private sector.

    The digital era demands a major reform of TPOs at all levels, including their operating procedures, structures, client relations and services. In many ways, TPOs are in a very similar situation to that of their customers. They are confronted with a new requirement, and must respond with speed, efficiency, innovation and flexibility.

    Among the new roles of TPOs:

    • Respond to the new requirements of an increasingly broad clientele.
    • Change the nature of support for SMEs by offering advice on e-trade, electronic markets and marketing via the Internet, technological skills, etc.
    • Contact SMEs electronically.
    • Implement an interactive TPO/SME web site by developing databases on customers and their requirements, and by enabling companies to provide feedback on the site.

    TPOs must adapt their working methods, reinforce their technological systems and create a new culture and new modes of behaviour. Although developing country TPOs may be ready to accept these changes, they continue to run up against traditional barriers: insufficient financing; shortage of qualified and motivated staff; insufficient client contact; and lack of understanding of the difficulties to overcome.

    Meeting challenges

    TPOs can meet the challenges of the digital era by adopting a long-term outlook and developing a national e-strategy to meet export targets.

    Each TPO must define a strategy to support SMEs. Objectives include reinforcing electronic skills, creating partnerships linked to technology and targeting TPO services. The services should include:

    • awareness-raising and training to build technological skills;
    • collection and distribution of business information on the Internet;
    • advice on business-to-business electronic markets; and
    • use of web sites for marketing.

    National strategies...

    It is up to national governments to implement a strategy and programmes to overcome the difficulties developing countries face in bridging the digital divide. Policy-makers should consider three key issues:

    • Enabling SMEs to benefit from information and communication technologies (ICTs) so they can be more effective in international trade.

    • The role of TPOs in redefining export strategy and the services they provide to exporters.

    • The importance of regional cooperation for greater efficiency in achieving international trade goals.

    ...International cooperation

    Developed countries also have to play a direct and active part to help developing countries "catch up" and integrate into the multilateral trading system. If one accepts that development of international trade cannot happen without the participation of developing countries, it follows that TPOs of developed countries have a responsibility in the effective implementation of this cooperative programme.

    Cooperation should take the form of bilateral and multilateral initiatives between governments, international and national organizations, as well as between TPOs of the same region, between TPOs of developed and developing countries and between TPO groupings (such as the European Group for the Promotion of International Trade and the Asian Trade Promotion Forum).

    Finally, it is important to note the valuable role that ITC has been playing as a catalyst and clearing-house to encourage cooperation between TPOs. To reinforce these measures, what is needed is to set up a system for technical assistance to TPOS in developing countries. It should take into account the various bilateral and multilateral cooperative initiatives. Technical assistance should take the form of regional and international cooperation programmes, based on preliminary assessments that involve beneficiary countries.

    Moroccan Export Promotion Centre

    • Mandate: Export promotion of industrial and agro-food products and services.
    • Institutional positioning: Public institution under the Ministry for Industry, Trade, Energy and Mines.
    • Founded: 1980.
    • Location: Casablanca.
    • Staff: 64.
    • Of interest: Hosted 3rd World Conference of TPOs (Marrakech, 2000). Contact CMPE directly to obtain a copy of the proceedings.

    Centre Marocain de Promotion des Exportations (CMPE),
    23, rue Bnou Majed El Bahar, 20000 Casablanca, Morocco
    Tel.: +212 22 302210
    Fax: +212 22 301793

    E-mail: cmpe@cmpe.org.ma
    Web site: http://www.cmpe.org.ma

    Lhoucine Agouzoul is Director of Information Systems, Moroccan Export Promotion Centre (CMPE). Mohamed Chahoub is Planning and Research Director, CMPE. They can be reached at cmpe@cmpe.org.ma.