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    Southern Africa Focuses on Competitiveness at Trade Week


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2002

    ITC research has shown that what sets successful exporting countries apart is a joint public-private strategy to build and keep competitive advantage. To this end, business and government leaders from 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries came together for a "Trade Week" in Johannesburg (November 2002).

    If trade is an engine for development, how can developing countries get on board? Market access is a critical entry point. Lesotho, for example, earned some US$ 200 million in exports under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) in 2001. But market access is only a foot in the door. At heart, sustained export growth is based on competitiveness.

    Market access is not enough

    "Market access alone is not enough," says J. Denis Bélisle, ITC Executive Director. "Southern African firms need to be competitive to win at the export game. A key to competitiveness is partnership between business and government."

    The Trade Week featured a Regional Executive Forum on the theme of "Managing Competitive Advantage". It also featured a Competitiveness Tools Fair, training seminars and the launch of new e-trade partnerships. All the events were designed to raise the competitive advantage of southern African firms and countries.

    The Regional Executive Forum debate was opened by David Syz, State Secretary of the Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland (seco), with J. Denis Bélisle and Lindiwe Hendricks, Deputy Minister of South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry. ITC, seco and the Department of Trade and Industry co-hosted the discussion, looking at business alliances, national branding, value chains and new ways to look at competitiveness.

    The debate was modelled on the annual Executive Forum debate that takes place in Montreux, Switzerland, bringing together country teams from all continents. The Executive Forum has acquired a strong reputation among developing countries for innovative yet practical solutions, as well as networking opportunities.

    Regional focus

    Last year, ITC and seco organized the first Regional Executive Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The aim is to extend impact, by exploring global themes in a regional context. "Participants tell me that the Executive Forum in Montreux has changed their approach to national export strategy," said Mr. Syz. "Several countries created export strategy task forces based on the Montreux discussions, others have reorganized national branding programmes, and still others are setting up new national symposia on export strategies. We encourage this kind of practical, local follow-up to these debates, in which government and industry work together to improve export growth."

    Partnerships show results

    Country teams of public and private sector leaders examined and proposed "best practices" in national export strategy. "South Africa, for example, has pioneered export councils in the last three years in several product sectors, including capital goods, stainless steel, leather, automotive components and textiles," noted Hendrik Roelofsen, Director of ITC's Division for Technical Cooperation Coordination. "These sector-specific coalitions of business and government are showing results, because they can address markets based on collective experience."

    The Competitiveness Tools Fair showcased benchmarking and strategy development tools, trade information serv-ices, business guides and training packs.

    New "e" initiatives to improve competitiveness

    At the Trade Week, ITC and the SADC Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry formally launched the "Southern Africa Business Network Portal", to identify new regional business opportunities.

    The Government of South Africa and ITC also announced a partnership agreement to develop and promote e-trade services jointly. The initiative will support South Africa's electronic communications and transactions law passed in August 2002, calling for a national e-strategy and greater commercial use of electronic transactions.

    For more information, contact Natalie Domeisen, ITC Senior Public Information Officer, at domeisen@intracen.org