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    Virtual Conferences


    A New Way to Listen...
    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2001 

    ITC's first Virtual Conference was launched as an innovative way to continue the dialogue with the many partners involved in ITC's recently-completed "Uruguay Round follow-up" programme. (It provided information on business implications of WTO agreements through more than 150 seminars and several publications, including the Business Guide to the Uruguay Round.)

    The conference discussions, which took place via the Internet or e-mail, turned out to be more than a casual chat on the Web. They contributed experiences, raised concerns, suggested new approaches or simply browsed through background materials and followed the exchange of ideas.

    A forum for developing countries 

    Participants registered from 36 countries, of which 30 were developing countries. The biggest group came from Turkey, closely followed by Argentina and the Philippines - reflecting the wide regional spread of participation. Roughly half were from ministries or trade-related ministerial bodies. The other half were from trade promotion organizations, industry associations, chambers of commerce and business consulting firms. ITC deliberately encouraged this mix, so that business concerns could be freely shared with government officials, and so that developing countries could shape the debate.

    Two conference sessions took place in parallel. The topics - e-commerce and anti-dumping - are prominent in current business discussions on the pros and cons of the WTO agreements. The discussions were led by conference moderators specialized in these areas.

    A "first" for many participants 

    "Learning-by-doing", the conference turned out to be the first Internet discussion experience for many of the participants.

    Participants joined the discussion by registering on the Internet site for the conference. They could then view all comments posted and messages sent to the conference; consult on-line background materials (including the last Close-Up section of Forum, "Investing in the Internet); contact other conference participants directly by e-mail; and - last but not least - add comments, ideas and questions to the discussion. Once sent, the messages could be read immediately by the other conference participants. All were encouraged to comment as individuals, and not as representatives of their institutions.

    From established heads of industry associations to young government officers, few were Internet wizards. Most learned about the conference directly from ITC, and registered with the assistance of ITC's help desk, asking for initial help by phone or e-mail. Those without web access participated by e-mail.

    Views expressed in the conference reached a wide group with different geographic and professional backgrounds. "Virtual conferences" do not replace personal relations - but the experience confirmed that this is a promising way to keep in touch, initiate new contacts, and jointly search for practical solutions to business issues.

    Sabine Meitzel, Senior Training Officer (meitzel@intracen.org), organized ITC's first Virtual Conference. She and Natalie Domeisen (domeisen@intracen.org), Forum Editor developed this joint outreach strategy. 

    Invitation to Forum readers 

    ITC encourages readers to contact ITC on e-commerce and Internet issues:

    • What has been your e-commerce experience, and what recommendations do you have for those using the Internet to conduct trade?

    • What kind of information on e-commerce would you like to see in Forum magazine?

    Readers' views will be used to shape editorial content of future Forum issues. Views will also be considered for publication in Forum and for posting on relevant ITC web sites.