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    National Capacity for Export Growth


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/1999

    During the Third WTO Ministerial Conference (Seattle, 30 November - 3 December 1999), U.S. President Clinton invited the heads of several multilateral organizations to share views on what their agencies could do to support the least developed countries in building national capacity to take advantage of trade liberalization. The following summarizes the views expressed by J. Denis Bélisle, Executive Director of ITC.

    Apart from major supply side difficulties - which can only be resolved over time and with substantial investment - ITC believes that practical, targeted technical assistance aimed at small and medium-sized exporting firms can have a substantial impact. Such technical assistance should focus on three areas:

    • Ensuring that the business community in developing countries understands WTO rules and national rights and obligations under these rules;

    • Formulating national export strategies;

    • Sharpening national export capabilities and skills.

    Understanding WTO rules

    Expertise in WTO rules is very scarce in developing countries, especially in LDCs. It is found here and there in government, business associations and academia. It needs to be harnessed systematically. To succeed in harnessing, developing and sustaining it, we have to go well beyond the pattern of typical two-day seminars conducted by international experts. ITC is presently piloting an approach which will create and train national networks of expertise from all stakeholder sectors by:

    • training and promoting an active dialogue among national experts and advisors from the public sector, business and academia;

    • helping them organize themselves into national and regional networks, and using the Internet to build links among themselves, and with WTO and ITC;

    • using technology to support them with practical reference and training materials such as the Business Guide to the World Trading System;

    • training these experts to train others in the understanding of WTO rules among national business executives and government officials.

    ITC is currently undertaking such activities in collaboration with WTO and UNCTAD in eight African countries (see Forum 2/99 for information on the Joint Integrated Programme for Technical Assistance). In early 2000, ITC will launch a far-reaching programme for additional developing countries called "World Tra@de Net". Preliminary discussions are underway with the World Bank Institute to benefit from their distance learning programme in this context.

    National export strategies

    For developing countries to really benefit from the WTO rules, the implications of the rules have to be linked to specific products and markets. This means that the public and private sectors need to work jointly to develop national export strategies that take advantage of the new trading system and put products into markets.

    Developing countries need coaching to do this effectively. ITC recently conducted a three-day workshop in Annecy, France, on this subject, where representatives of trade promotion organizations from 22 countries discussed what works and what does not in terms of export strategies. Developing country participants clearly indicated their needs and hopes for technical assistance in this area.

    Export skills

    Finally, exporters require training in such areas as improving competitiveness, quality management, packaging, legal

    aspects of international trade, human resource development, product diversification and marketing, and using trade information effectively. This is what ITC has been doing for over 35 years. We believe that this type of practical national capacity building is required more than ever before. The bottleneck is finding financial resources to do the job.

    Understanding of the WTO rules, formulation of national export strategies and enhancement of exporting skills are the three areas where the need for national capacity building is most critical. ITC believes that addressing these areas presents the most promising opportunities for increased exports and job creation in developing countries.