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    Romania: Fashioning a Bright Future


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

    Photo: ITC Designed in Romania - a model displays the latest fashions at the international fashion show held in Bucharest.

    Sheer, unforgettable magic. With house music setting a hypnotic pulse, psychedelic lighting injecting an edge and giant screens capturing the allure of the catwalk, a national fashion event that would not have been out of place in Paris, New York or Milan was held in Romania earlier this year. Stunning Romanian models were dressed to boost their country's garment exports - a crowning achievement that reflects its successful partnership with ITC during its transition years.

    ITC has worked on trade development in Romania since the early 1990s. The organization's outreach and capacity building in the country began almost immediately after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. It is the trust, relationships and understanding built up over more than 12 years that has seen ITC's work yield fruits.

    From wood products to information technology (IT) and fashion, ITC, working closely with Romanian partners, has helped prepare a range of key sectors for greater international export success. This has implied involvement at every level - from macro-level assistance in the development of a national strategy for export development and the creation of a related trade support network, to the strengthening and fostering of private sector networks, to micro-level assistance aimed at promoting the international competitiveness of individual enterprises.

    Now, with accession to the European Union (EU) on the horizon in 2007, and with the
    myriad challenges and tremendous commercial opportunities this presents, exporters, producers and providers of goods and services need to continue their journey up a steep learning curve to ensure that they make the most of new markets.

    In fact, Romanian authorities are so aware of the need for the population to understand the complexities of EU regulations and standards that they approved the transmission of a 12-part television series this year called Ulita spre Europa. The programme sought not only to entertain, but also to inform Romania's massive farming community of the challenges and opportunities of trading with the lucrative EU food and agricultural markets. The populist TV project, backed by the European Commission, took farming families through the maze of exporting standards and regulations while never drifting too far from the reality of life on the farm.

    For ITC, efforts to help Romania's trade development have focused on:

    • promoting a culture shift and change in mentality amongst Romanian companies to boost their understanding of the need for exporters to deal promptly, thoroughly and systematically with international market requirements;
    • an appreciation among Romanian producers in selected sectors (notably, garments and textiles, and wood products) of the range of analytical tools (including key tools developed by ITC) that allow exporters to understand, adopt and adapt to the demands of new markets; and
    • enhancing local capacity to build in greater value-added in products offered and, at the same time, developing the manufacturing flexibility that can adjust to changing fashions and tastes to meet the needs of more demanding markets.
    ITC's work in Romania began with a needs assessment in 1991 and, with support and financing largely from seco (the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs), successive projects were carried out through the 1990s. Key to the success of these projects over 12 years has been the establishment of partnerships with public and private bodies and the involvement of local bodies in the needs-assessment process. In 1995 ITC began a partnership with the Romanian Foreign Trade Centre (now the Romanian Trade Promotion Centre, RTPC), which was itself created by merging a government market research centre and a public sector computing centre.

    ITC played a vital role in setting up the RTPC by giving advice on how to structure the organization and providing training. It was also the main contributor to a specialized trade information library for the business sector and academia. ITC provided access to the Internet and assisted in the redesign of RTPC's web site, which included access to ITC's online databases and analytical tools tailored to allow exporters to make the most of new international opportunities.

    Increasing value-added

    Once the RTPC was up and running, ITC worked with the new centre to focus on private sector competitiveness. The key to success lay in finding the right local counterparts to work with. In-country research and assessments saw ITC/RTPC develop a relationship with the Institute of Fashion, IMOD (see box), and the National Institute of Wood. The project approach aimed at strengthening these two specialist agencies to provide much-needed trade support services to the business sector. Collaboration with the two institutes encouraged selected companies to adopt a process that engineered greater vertical integration, allowing increased value-added for a number of wood furniture and fashion garment exporters.

    Today, through the sale of products that ITC helped it to develop, RTPC is approximately 40% self-financing and the success of the partnership has attracted further public and private sector interest for ITC activities in the region.

    In 2001, an independent evaluation of ITC's cooperation with Romania was undertaken. It identified several key achievements including:
    • The Romanian Foreign Trade Centre (now the RTPC), established in 1995, is now recognized as the country's best provider of trade information services.
    • In 1996, in-country experts established the Romanian Association of Purchasing and Supply Management, following a series of ITC training sessions. Since the mid-1990s hundreds of specialists from Romanian companies have undergone training through the association. The training has introduced modern purchasing and supply management techniques and shifted attitudes in many companies to enhance business efficiency.
    • Romania was amongst the first countries in the world to translate and adapt three of ITC's best-known business publications: Business Guide to the World Trading System; Trade Secrets; and Secrets of Electronic Commerce. All three guides are aimed at helping the business community improve their export capacity.
    The success of ITC's trade development work with Romania has prompted both the private and the public sectors in the country to ask the organization to continue working with them. Following the identification of a number of priority needs, ITC has been requested to develop a complex project that would assist in the continued development of a number of key sectors in the country.

    "If I were asked to highlight the biggest key to success in Romania, it would be the close working relationship with a wide range of partners in the country, as well as the Swiss government and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]," said Szabolcs Piskolti, ITC's Chief of the regional office responsible for technical cooperation with Romania. "The assessment of country needs, the subsequent design of technical cooperation projects, their management and their monitoring were done as a collaborative, country-based process."

    Out of the fashion deep freeze

    In just 14 years, Romanian fashion has moved far away from the drab style of cold war clothing. In February 2004, 12 Romanian fashion and textile companies showed the world of haute couture why the country has the potential of being a force to be reckoned with. A national fashion event for an international audience was held in the Bucharest Hilton, the culmination of years of successful cooperation between the ITC and IMOD, the Institute of Fashion.

    During the fashion show, based on the theme of "Today for tomorrow", the Romanian companies presented their own collections to an enthralled gathering of more than 200 people, including commercial representatives from Bucharest-based embassies.

    ITC's cooperation with IMOD has focused on a series of practical activ-ities to enable local textile and garment manufacturers to add value and prepare for a more targeted approach to international exporting:
    • ITC provided IMOD with computer-aided design (CAD) and pattern-making and -grading software and hardware. A Viennese company trained IMOD staff in the use of these tools.
    • A capacity-building process was engineered to enable Romanian companies to move beyond the "cut, make, trim" approach to develop greater value-added offerings.
    • ITC provided IMOD with subscriptions to specialist publications with critically important fashion forecasts for the seasons ahead. This established a fashion library unique in Romania.
    • In return, IMOD committed to making the fashion library and the computer-aided tools available to interested garment manufacturers during the project.
    • In addition, IMOD agreed to develop, free of charge, collections for 12 fashion garment enterprises and to provide seminars on fashion trends for interested companies.

    Writer: Alison Clements-Hunt

    Organizations mentioned in this story: