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    Networking in Asia and the Pacific: The Asian Trade Promotion Forum


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2000

    The Asian Trade Promotion Forum (ATPF) is a forum of 21 trade promotion organizations in Asia, including the Oceanic region. The external environment of trade promotion is becoming more complex and expansive, moving at a rapid pace. This situation poses a major challenge, not only to ATPF, but also to all other TPOs around the world. We must take on this challenge.


    The first meeting of ATPF was held in Tokyo in 1987. The advocate of the forum was the then-chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Mr. Akazawa. His intention was to establish a setting for annual meetings of Asian TPOs for free opinion exchanges, through which participants could promote mutual understanding, confirm friendship and solidarity, and implement trade promotion projects effectively.

    Ten TPOs gathered for the inaugurating forum. At the time, we had no specific information as to what kind of activities each TPO was conducting. Although they had the occasion to meet each other individually, there had never been an overall gathering of TPO leaders.

    Who participates?

    ATPF has gradually increased its participants since its launch with ten member organizations. It currently has 21 members, the newest being the Viet Nam Trade Promotion Agency, or VIETRADE.

    Annual meetings: a structure to exchange information

    Participating TPOs have a rotating responsibility to host forum meetings. Each organization bears their expenses for participating in the meetings, while the host organization shoulders the costs associated with organizing the respective meetings. There have been 14 forum meetings held since the inaugural forum of 1987, with the most recent held in November 2000 in Auckland, New Zealand.

    Themes reflect trade in a changing world

    Themes of past ATPF meetings can be classified in two categories. The first concerns issues facing TPOs, including TPOs' activities, new policies and strategies. The second category concerns TPOs' responses to transition in global trade frameworks and significant economic changes in the region. Themes in this category include "Trade Promotion for Post-Uruguay Round", "Trade Development and Mutual Cooperation in Response to the Asian Crisis", and this year, "E-Commerce and TPOs". As ATPF has developed, its themes have shifted to those reflecting greater world trends.

    Preparatory meetings

    The forum originally started as a setting up of meetings among TPO leaders themselves for information exchanges. However, in order to develop it into a group for determining and promoting more specific and continuous cooperation projects, it has become necessary to set up a subcommittee for preparing such activities. Since 1992, Working Level Meetings have been held in Tokyo several months prior to each forum meeting, with JETRO acting as the host organization. Working Level Meetings define the theme and agenda for ATPF meetings, laying the groundwork for efficient plenary discussions.

    Web site: evolution in content

    In order to disseminate ATPF information to the world, ATPF has built its own web site. The site is located in the web server of JETRO, which is effectively serving as the forum's secretariat. All member TPOs have their own web sites, which people can visit from links set up on the ATPF site. In July 1999, the forum's Internet experts gathered in Tokyo in an attempt to improve the web site. TPO representatives discussed including additional links to member economies' trade/investment statistics as well as to business matchmaking sites.

    TPO members have agreed to enhance their trade/investment data in the future. The proposal to gather trade data from each TPO and compile lists illustrating exports between economies where member TPOs belong is gaining momentum. There is also an agreement that each TPO will provide statistics of direct investment between these economies as much as possible.

    More information exchange projects

    In addition to annual meetings and the web site, ATPF has the ATRAIN information exchange system, a bulletin, joint study missions, and a compilation of trade-show information.

    Regional information exchange system

    ATPF established a system to mutually exchange tariff rate schedules, trade statistics, corporate directories and TPO newsletters among member organizations. This system is commonly called the "ATRAIN", which stands for Asian Trade Promotion Activities Information Network.


    ATPF also issues the Bulletin news-

    letter once or twice a year. It has been published only in the print medium until now. However, responding to the IT revolution, members have agreed to have the same information posted on the ATPF web site, while maintaining the conventional print format. The theme of the latest Bulletin is "Challenges and Measures for Trade Promotion in the New Economy".

    Joint study missions for TPOs

    ATPF also organizes a programme called the Joint Study Mission, in which a host TPO receives study visits from multiple TPOs. It provides an opportunity to learn about the activities of other TPOs and conduct research into the market of the country/region the host TPO is based in. The Philippines' TPO, CITEM, acts as the secretariat for this project.

    Regional trade-show compilation

    Among other notable activities is the compilation of trade-show information in member countries by the South Korean TPO, KOTRA. The data is made available on the Internet.


    Looking back at the progress of ATPF over the last two to three years, one receives an impression that the forum is undergoing major changes. One such change is seen in the direction in which each TPO is heading.


    In addition to conventional trade promotion, such as providing information on overseas markets to business people or participating in trade shows overseas, TPOs are working towards improving

    e-commerce, virtual trading, business matchmaking and other systems -

    urgent tasks with the arrival of the IT age.

    JETRO also launched the Trade Tie-Up Promotion Program, or TTPP, on 1 August 2000, to offer comprehensive business matchmaking services on the Internet, covering trade, investment, technological exchanges and business partnerships.


    With the increase of transborder transactions, trade will inevitably become more closely associated with issues surrounding direct investment. Last year, ATPF met in Dhaka, Bangladesh, under the theme of 'Trade and Investment Opportunities in the Asia-Pacific Region'. In promoting trade, one must not see only the trade aspect. The changing times demand that trade and investment be handled as two aspects of the same issue. In this sense, developing appropriate legal infrastructure will also lead to trade promotion.

    Continue regional cooperation

    TPOs around the world are numerous, representing various countries and regions. They have a diverse range of functions, focal project areas, organizational scales and financial resources. While respecting such diversity, there is a need to identify the areas and information we can share. In its 14-year history, ATPF has built up cooperative relationships. It has respected the diverse nature of each participating member, and enhanced its functions with an emphasis on consensus.

    Hiroshi Yokokawa is the Executive Vice President of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). This article is adapted from a presentation on 'Mechanisms for TPO cooperation' made by Mr. Yokokawa at the third World Conference of Trade Promotion Organizations (Marrakech, 25-27 October 2000). Mr. Yokokawa can be contacted at yokokawahiroshi@jetro.go.jp