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    Winning TPOs Change with the Times


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2005 

    Trade promotion organizations (TPOs) in the Republic of Korea, Uganda, Colombia, Jamaica, Australia and Bulgaria have received international awards for their achievements in raising exports. These winners demonstrate that TPOs can make a difference in today's challenging trade environment.


    Countries that help their businesses compete internationally are more likely to prosper in today's global economy. Trade promotion organizations can play an important role in boosting trade, particularly among small firms. Those most successful at helping their country integrate into the world economy encompass more than promoting trade externally - they help develop trade potential in the country.

    But how best to achieve this? How to break new ground? At their world conference in October 2004, TPOs recognized winners among their peers that are achieving good, quantifiable results through solutions that other countries can adapt.

    New international awards

    "Over the past several years, TPOs have been forced to re-examine their role and reorganize in light of the rapidly changing trade environment," said J. Denis Bélisle, Executive Director of ITC. "These first-time awards recognize those that have made substantial efforts to excel and deliver concrete, measurable results. They are a model for others trying to do the same."

    Every country faces different challenges, but the six winners stand out for common approaches:

    • They tend to provide more specialized services to customers. In  times of smaller budgets, they are looking at ways to do more for less: using information and communications technologies (ICTs) creatively; retraining staff; and targeting "winners" for assistance.

    • They set clear business objectives to motivate staff and focus the  leadership. Some adopt modern business management systems such as performance-based remuneration schemes.

    • They embrace innovation and constantly reassess their services.  They venture into new ground, including non-traditional exports from least developed countries, evaluate new areas such as investment promotion and expand out of capitals to regional and overseas offices.


    Today, Korea leads innovation

    The Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, KOTRA, won the award for Best TPO from a Developing Country for its transition from a reactive organization to one that proactively focuses on its performance. It also won the "Best of the Best TPOs" award.  In 2000 and 2001, KOTRA received the worst scores for customer satisfaction among all public enterprises in the Republic of Korea.

    Beginning in 2002, management made fundamental changes in the organization's approach, information technology (IT) systems and staff attitude.

    Customers double, satisfaction grows

    In 2000, the number of KOTRA-serviced customers was 7,000 but it doubled that figure to 14,000 by the year 2003. During the same period, the customer satisfaction index rose from 56% in 2000 to 80% in 2003.

    The latter made it the second-ranked among all Korean public enterprises.

    KOTRA achieved this by shifting its administration and management to a customer focus, using technology applications and performance management tools. It introduced a client relations management system.

    Customers now use an interactive web site to request information by country or industry, which the system provides from any of the organization's 103 offices worldwide. When customers apply for tailored services, a workflow system records progress, which they can track.

    In 2002, KOTRA recognized that trade and investment are inextricably linked - trade brings investment and investment creates new trade opportunities. It changed its name to reflect this and expanded its services to include support for inbound and outbound investment and technological cooperation.

    Performance-driven staff

    Across units worldwide, KOTRA evaluated the performance of units and individuals using a system that measures customer achievements and satisfaction. Staff are now remunerated according to their performance.

    The annual incentive of 250% of monthly salary is attractive and has helped to change employees' attitudes. In 2003, the Korean Government recognized KOTRA as an organization leading the innovation of public enterprises, and the Ministry of Budget and Planning nominated it an "Excellent Innovation Leader".

    A turnaround in Uganda

    The Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB) won the award for Best TPO from a Least Developed Country for boosting exports in new sectors, raising the profile of trade and maximizing the value of ICTs and communications for customer services.  UEPB had stagnated while the Government pondered whether to merge it with other agencies. Key staff had left. In 2002, a new executive director decided to give the organization a new customer focus, introduce new services, use new tools, increase revenue and retrain staff in new methods of working.

    The organization has improved the status and recognition for exports in the business community and secured private sector financing for its export bulletin and exporter awards scheme. It is raising 27% of its costs through charging for various aspects of its services and now has 600 registered exporters.


    The representatives from Bulgaria and Uganda, who were unable to attend the conference, received their awards at ITC headquarters in Geneva in December 2004. (Photo: ITC/S. Lee)