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    South African Firms Look to Expand Their Share of UN Procurement


    International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2007, © International Trade Centre

    © ITC/S. Betemps Cochin A South African entrepreneur and a UN procurement officer meet at the business contact day in Johannesburg in June 2007.

    The latest annual meeting of UN buyers allowed South African firms to make new business contacts, building on an ITC partnership with South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry.

    South African suppliers and United Nations (UN) procurement officers explored how to expand South African business presence among UN buyers for relief items, in a June meeting organized by the dti, South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry.

    Africa, which is home to most of the world's poorest countries and one-fourth of the world's asylum seekers and refugees, and has regular food shortages, is the biggest international aid recipient. The UN and other international organizations buy food, medicine, transport and other items to carry out their emergency and development programmes in the region.

    As the continent's main exporter, South Africa has been the leading African supplier to the UN and, together with Kenya, hosts many UN procurement offices. However, its share in UN procurement is still very small, between 1% and 2%. There is still great scope for the development of local businesses through the aid procurement market.

    The business contact day

    When UN buyers held their annual meeting this year, they chose South Africa as their venue. ITC and the dti organized a contact day with local businesses at their request. The procurement officers, as representatives of the UN Inter-Agency Procurement Working Group, represented a unique opportunity for South African firms. Operating in the international aid market not only brings new revenue, but gives companies a higher profile through the credibility of working with an internationally recognized buyer.

    Procurement officers from more than 20 UN agencies met one-on-one with representatives from 55 South African enterprises offering, among others, food and agricultural products, shelter, water and sanitation items, computer and telecommunications equipment, consultancy and transport services.

    The companies and the UN buyers welcomed the format and qualified it as "very professional", "targeted" and "well-managed and organized", according to survey comments from participants.

    Business participants were profiled and matched in advance by Matome Kgomommu, who works for Trade and Investment South Africa, part of the dti. He used ITC software and methodology to organize the event, based on an ITC training seminar held in Pretoria in March 2007. "ITC software is so helpful and relevant to match buyers and sellers," said Mr Kgomommu. "It can also be used as a database with company profiles. I personally believe that every trade institution should have such a tool. The matching methodology worked extremely well… we used tips learnt at the training seminar to handle the business contact day."

    The ITC seminar trained staff at the dti, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, Trade and Investment KwaZulu-Natal and Trade and Investment Limpopo. The UN business day was used as a case study, along with learn-by-doing exercises that allowed trainers to tailor their advice.

    Trade and Investment South Africa is now assessing the results of the business day based on ITC's evaluation method, and is already planning to use the ITC software to organize a similar event soon.

    For more information, contact Sylvie Bétemps Cochin

    Contributors: Sylvie Bétemps Cochin and Natalie Domeisen, ITC.