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    The Past Ten Years at ITC…


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2004

    The secret to success for any technical cooperation agency is to tailor its assistance programmes directly to the needs of its clients and to deliver them efficiently.

    Ten years ago, the landscape for world trade and trade-related technical assistance changed fundamentally. The creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the advent of the Internet and world-scale competition combined in a manner that presented exporters of the developing and transition world with formidable opportunities and challenges. To benefit, they turned eagerly to ITC, their long-term partner. Their needs were big. For ITC to respond, it needed donor support - but that was not forthcoming: support had plunged. Donors and parent organizations were requesting drastic changes in ITC's operations.

    ITC was at a crossroads. It had to take a hard look at the new needs of its clients and at the way it was conducting its own business. It needed a dynamic agenda for the future: one allowing the organization to understand the new business realities of the world marketplace and to appreciate the supply-side constraints of its clientele. It needed an agenda to redefine its core business on the strict basis of its comparative advantages, to reinvent its approach to trade capacity building and to increase the transparency and efficiency of its management style.

    Over the past ten years, ITC has managed to make the 1994 agenda for the future a reality. There is still much to achieve but a number of notable milestones are there.

    A redefined niche

    A road map to refocus the organization was the first milestone. It emphasized strategic and client orientation, quality assurance and transparency. Between 1995 and 1997, we established a new "management framework". We restructured the Office of the Executive Director to assume responsibilities for corporate strategy and quality assurance in programme design and delivery. We created a Research and Analysis Unit (the precursor of the current Market Analysis Section) to follow market trends and export flows. And we concentrated in-house product knowledge in sectors (principally agro-based) that possess the highest potential for export by developing and transition economies. Gradually, we focused on the higher value-added segments of these product sectors.

    In parallel, we familiarized ourselves with a major area of untapped potential for our clients: the services sector. By the late 1990s, we had an active programme to promote the export of services. The approach, while specific to the nature of the market for services, is in line with ITC's approach to supply-side issues. Slowly, but percep-tibly, ITC had changed its business from export promotion to export development. We had adjusted the organizational mindset from a focus on marketing to a wider one on international competitiveness issues.

    Greater client orientation

    We created a special unit to address the trade capacity needs of least developed countries (LDCs). ITC'sBusiness Sector Round Table at the Third UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries, held in Brussels in 2001, launched this new initiative to help jump-start exports from LDCs. We invited to Brussels 20 successful LDC exporters so that they could explain how they had turned export opportunities into actual business, despite all the constraints they faced, and we documented and promoted the conclusions of the dialogue.

    Also, to ensure more focused client liaison, we established "country desks" for programme development in the Commonwealth of Independent States and other economies in transition.

    Tighter management

    We've maintained the momentum towards organizational and operational reform that was generated by the initial road map. The Annual Operations Plan, introduced in the late 1990s, was reinforced by enhanced Project Cycle Management tools, a new Performance Appraisal System for staff and, in 2002, by a three-year, rolling Business Plan. In 2003, we introduced the fully automated Projects Portal monitoring system to ensure timely implementation of field-level projects, and the Integrated Management Information System to streamline internal procedures and administration. For ten years, a team- and results-based organizational culture has been at the top of ITC's priority list.

    New products and delivery approaches

    In 1998, ITC turned its attention from building organizational strengths to the retooling of its programmes and the revamping of its approach to field delivery. The decision to adopt what has become known as the "product-network" approach was a key milestone in ITC's technical development.

    The basic premise of this approach is that ITC should assume greater responsibility for developing its own technical assistance "products" (i.e., "best-practice" guides, training and business counselling systems, and competitiveness support and benchmarking tools) and count on institutional "networks" to adapt them to national requirements and deliver to local clients. This was a departure from past practice. It placed continuity of field-level relationships at the forefront of ITC's capacity-building efforts. It established ITC as a technical agency in its own right and repositioned us as not just a provider of technical assistance, but a partner in national trade development.

    Since the inception of the product-network approach, ITC has developed a number of tools and collaborative networks varying from Juris International, a trilingual database on international trade law for developing countries, the Modular Learning System in International Purchasing and Supply Management, the Business Management System for enterprise managers, to the Trade Secrets series of practical business guides on quality management, e-trade, trade in services, finance and others. Most are designed for national adaptation by network partners, a cost-effective way to contribute to national capacity building. Our Compendium of Tools, Services and Programmes and Competitiveness Tools Fair elaborate on all of them.

    Possibly the most successful of ITC's new products is the Trade Map suite (Trade Map, Market Access Map, Product Map, Country Map), a computer-based set of statistical maps to help trade strategists, trade development institutions and exporters arrive at better decisions on the basis of strategic market analysis and simulations. The Trade Map suite also pioneered a move to sell, rather than offer freely, a number of ITC's more specialized products.

    Enhanced partnerships

    Partnerships are at the centre of ITC's field-level support. Starting in 1997, ITC joined the first comprehensive technical assistance partnership with UNCTAD and WTO. The Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme in Africa (JITAP) aimed at building capacities within the public sector for WTO negotiations and compliance, as well as enhancing the private sector's ability to benefit from business opportunities created within the evolving multilateral trading system.

    The JITAP partnership, now in its second generation, was followed by a series of ongoing alliances with both technical and financing agencies, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Agence Intergouvernementale de la Francophonie, the International Organization for Standardization, the International Tropical Timber Organization, the World Bank, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports of the Netherlands, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (seco) and, most recently, the Trade Facilitation Office Canada.

    The focus on partnership includes support to strengthen public-private sector partnerships at field level: 1999 saw the first edition of ITC's Executive Forum, a three-day, well-researched and structured "in residence" brainstorming session on national export strategies for leading businesspeople and government officials.

    The formula, aimed at creating awareness, identifying best practice in strategy development and promoting private-public sector dialogue, has grown into an annual event, held in Montreux, Switzerland, with the support of seco.

    Greater flexibility and synergy

    Since the mid-1990s, we have pursued the partnership approach systematically as a means of maximizing synergies among technical assistance providers and of creating greater flexibility in ITC's field operations. There has been considerable success.

    First, in 1998, several donors agreed to contribute to a Global Trust Fund (GTF) to be used flexibly to respond to specific requests for support, to programme more ambitious interventions and to finance long-term programmes with multi-donor participation.

    Through the GTF, ITC's capability to react swiftly to opportunities and to assume solid commitment to more massive needs, shared by developing and transition economies, has been significantly enhanced. The number of contributors to the GTF has grown since its inception.

    Long-term programmes funded under the GTF include, among others, the Export-led Poverty Reduction Programme to link entrepreneurs in poor communities more directly to export markets. We've piloted an innovative approach in eight countries in sectors such as organic spices, gourmet coffee, silk, honey and community tourism. Some of the latest applications of our South-South Trade Promotion Programme, an ITC flagship, also benefit from GTF funding, including the highly successful Buying from Africa for Africa, in the field of humanitarian aid procurement, and Latin Pharma, for the Latin American pharmaceutical sector.

    Second, the priority on partnership-building includes ITC participation in broad technical assistance "consortia". Most notable among these is the Integrated Framework (IF), an alliance of six multilateral agencies (IMF, ITC, UNCTAD, UNDP, World Bank and WTO), which works towards supporting the mainstreaming of trade into overall national development plans of LDCs. Our involvement in the IF has produced a pipeline of projects designed to build national capacities to support the competitiveness of the business sector.

    Third, dedicated events such as the biannual Meet in Africa - which has become the largest forum for the African leather industry, attracting hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of leather professionals -are fully based on synergy between industry players and ITC.

    Emphasis on business advocacy

    Our increasing association with UNCTAD and WTO in the delivery of technical assistance has brought us closer to the policy arena. In 1996, ITC published, in cooperation with the Commonwealth Secretariat, a Business Guide to the Uruguay Round which provided a layman's explanation of the agreements and the implications for the business sector.

    This publication led us to become increasingly involved in awareness-building within the private sector of the ramifications of the WTO negotiations under the GTF-financed World Tr@de Net Programme. The Doha Declaration of 2001, following the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference, reaffirmed its support "for the valuable work of the International Trade Centre, which should be enhanced". In the aftermath of Doha, requests for ITC's assistance increased significantly, as did donor support, the combined effect of which was a 70% increase in the dollar value of technical assistance delivered by ITC during the period 2001-2003.

    In 2002, ITC went beyond awareness-building and openly promoted business advocacy in establishing national negotiating positions in the context of the WTO. We did so principally through a series of regional consultations, under the title of Business for Cancún, which resulted in 49 national negotiating teams participating in the Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference in September 2003 in Cancún having members from the business sector. A first, according to many of them.

    Priority to cyber-collaboration

    While we did not quickly embrace the Internet as a tool to deliver technical assistance, we do so now, in tandem with our clients.

    In 2001, we finalized our E-Facilitated Trade Development Strategy. It called for greater use of cyber-collaboration as a quick and cost-effective way of delivering support to the field. Since then, ITC has revamped its web site and uses the Internet extensively to support its various product-networks and to facilitate application of its "competitiveness toolkit". Through "e", we have extended our public information and outreach activities, putting online, for example, our quarterly Trade Forum magazine, which has gone from a general trade information provider to a targeted and powerful support tool for trade capacity building.

    Our "e" strategy also led to the launching of the E-Trade Bridge Programme, which is designed to promote the development of e-competency within the business community. An E-Trade Development Unit was established in 2002 to put "e" to work for our clients.

    Looking ahead

    Increased trade liberalization leads to increased opportunities and challenges for ITC clients. Both can be expected in the years ahead and, in turn, both should generate more demand for ITC services. Fortunately, this demand would come at the right time. Contrary to ten years ago, ITC now benefits from solid support from the donor community and is technically prepared to deliver quality programmes, tools and services.

    Our challenge will consist of optimizing the use of resources. An interesting challenge, indeed. I believe that responding well to this challenge could lead to the next quantum leap in the development of the organization. In my view, success will rest on ITC's ability to read its clients' needs, remain a niche player, maintain its drive, level of creativity and businesslike approach and find adequate answers in two areas: first, the continued enhancement of ITC's technical expertise and its systematic use; and second, progress in documenting and measuring the impact of its work. ITC, like many other development organizations, has difficulties in gauging realistically the impact of its work. Progress here is a must.

    Forty years of hard work in trade development and continued commitment to contribute to sustainable development through trade is what should be celebrated on the occasion of ITC's 40th anniversary.

    J. Denis Bélisle was appointed Executive Director of ITC in 1994.