Closing statement at the TPO Network World Conference and Awards
Delivered by ITC Executive Director at the TPO Network World Conference and Awards 2014 in Dubai, UAE
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Ladies and gentlemen,
Over the last three days, we have engaged in discussions on a wide range of trade, investment and development issues. Having these debates in Dubai was particularly relevant given the role that trade and investment led growth has played in enabling Dubai to become one of the most important global trade and investment hubs.
I express my sincere thanks to the export promotion agency of the Department of Economic Development in Dubai; to His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy; and to His Excellency Eng. Saed Al Awadi, Chief Executive Officer, Dubai Exports and their teams for hosting this WTPO Conference. And of course I must not forget the excellent hospitality offered in particular at the spectacular gala event held yesterday.
This has been the largest gathering ever for a WTPO since it was inaugurated in 1996 in Cartagena, Colombia. Over 400 leaders from 68 countries took part in these discussions, bringing TPOs, business associations, and policy makers together around the table.
We have collectively upgraded our knowledge of trade, investment and development issues, and the role that TPOs can further play in helping SMEs to internationalise.
We are in one of the more innovative cities in one of the most innovative regions in the world. It is no surprise that innovation has been a central feature in our debates. Innovation was the primary lens through which the adjudicating panel determined the winners of this year's TPO awards -- Proexport Colombia, Enterprise Mauritius and Zambia Development Agency; and the special mention of the efforts made by Enterprise Lithuania and ICEX Spain in promoting youth employment. I congratulate you all and in fact commend all TPOs that submitted their candidature. This engagement shows that you have a lot of new ideas to foster trade and investment which you want to share. We urge you to continue showcasing how you are making a difference.
On behalf of the ITC and Dubai Exports, I am pleased to provide you with a summary of our discussions.
Let me begin by thanking you for participating in a survey on the cost of doing business and the relevance of Aid for Trade for the TPO community.
We asked you for your opinion on which support services you consider a priority area for Aid for Trade in order to re-focus and strengthen the support services provided by you to your exporters. Based on the replies to the survey we received yesterday we found that most of you would like to improve your ability to identify market opportunities abroad. Increased support for marketing and promotion assistance to established and potential exporters came second in your responses. Helping you to connect national producers to regional and global value chains and being able to better identify distribution channels in partner countries ranked third and fourth respectively.
We have heard you, we will take your views into account in our strategy and we will share the message on to our partners in the Aid for Trade arena.
At WEDF 2015 – which will be held in Qatar next year – we will launch our first annual ITC flagship publication focusing on SME competitiveness.
To produce this publication and the SME competitiveness index we have started to build a global network of academic and technical experts in the field. We have also started to build a network of TPOs interested in collaborating with us in gathering intelligence and data on SME competitiveness in their countries. We look forward to working with you and with experts in your countries on these two ventures.
The central theme of this conference was that trade AND investment promotion is critical to connect SMEs to value chains.
Some TPOs have been quick to respond by merging the investment and trade promotion functions under one umbrella. Here no one size fits all. But there are some clear lessons to learn from what others have done and the primary one is the need for policy alignment if a merger is to be sustainable and deliver for SMEs.
I see six key messages which have emerged from these few days.
First, there is a need to enhance your engagement with SMEs to ensure their interests are reflected in the new trade landscape which is one dominated by value chains. This new topography has created many opportunities for SMEs to enter these chains but it does not happen automatically. There is a role for TPOs including sub-national TPOs– as intermediaries between local enterprises and global and regional markets – to help them adjust their portfolio of services to align with the needs of these value chains and to understand how to navigate an admittedly challenging arena.
Second, keep working to reduce the cost of doing business across borders.
These include transaction costs such as clearing customs; transporting goods to the border; and logistics. The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement addresses these directly by creating a legal structure to facilitate the reduction of the cost and time of doing business.
TPOs have a crucial role in assisting governments to implement trade facilitation reforms with a business-friendly perspective. They can advocate for a broader reform agenda beyond just customs and logistics, that addresses other non-tariff barriers.
Third, invest in services to activate new market opportunities.
The services sector extends far beyond just the initial value of direct services trade. 'Embodied' services constitute a large and growing share of the value of both agro-produce and manufactured goods.
Trade in services is the most dynamic segment of international trade. That means that TPOs need to reinvent themselves by providing a 'services trade promotion toolkit'. This toolkit could entail two-way investment promotion strategies, visa facilitation campaigns, thematic platforms which showcase local services talent, incubators of innovation, upgrading of regulatory and quality assurance institutions, and skills development.
Fourth, encourage innovation.
SMEs find it challenging to keep up with technological change. They generally employ few technical specialists, and it takes substantial resources to adjust to the fast paced works of technological change. Yet SMEs can be incubators of new technologies and a source of innovation. And TPOs can help in nurturing these incubators by creating conditions that facilitate technological platforms but with a focus on good customer service and on revenue-generation activities.
Fifth, focus on new markets.
Entering new markets, and here a lot of focus was placed on accessing emerging markets-requires substantial investment in gathering information on foreign prices, consumer preferences, standards, testing requirements, and appropriate distribution channels abroad. In a nutshell, in providing trade and market intelligence.
The raison d'être of TPOs' existence is to assist cash-strapped and information-strapped SMEs to obtain such expertise at affordable cost.
Firms in countries which face a "reputation barrier" find it immensely challenging to enter new markets. These firms may collectively need to invest more in branding and marketing. TPOs are well placed to reap economies of scale while performing this task. Successful branding requires long-term attention to maintain distinctive brand positioning, quality, authenticity. It also requires understanding of changing markets and customers' tastes and perceptions.
And sixth – enhance your own efficiency in order to extend your reach.
For providing trade and investment promotion, TPOs must make best use of the customer relationship management and other digital tools to enhance their reach, efficiency, credibility and visibility in providing services to their clients.
A collaborative approach between public and private sectors in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries is an example of this and which has resulted in enhanced efficiency and what has essentially become a bridge between East and West. This kind of strategy will need to be actively pursued in this ever more interdependent world.
Inclusive economic growth; eradicating poverty through trade; facilitating SME competitiveness; and ensuring the economic empowerment of women are all high on the international agenda. TPOs must continue to remain engaged on all of these matters.
A TPO is only really effective if it is cutting edge.
You have a major role – in essence a responsibility – to ensure that the benefits of trade growth reach and include women, young people and marginalized communities. TPOs must make conscious efforts to prepare women business owners to meet buyers' requirements and eventually become preferred suppliers. A few weeks ago at the World Export Development Forum in Kigali we launched an initiative aimed at increasing government procurement from women-owned businesses. I urge all TPOs to study the government procurement guidelines and work with your governments to have them increase the opportunities they provide to women-owned businesses in the annual 15 trillion dollar government procurement market.
The need for quality impact assessment of the services provided by TPOs reverberated in all sessions of this Conference. ITC's Assess, Improve, Measure programme (AIM) is the conceptual response to address this need. We are also collaborating with European TPOs to conduct a study of the impact of their support services on export growth and employment. We look forward to carrying out a similar study for the Asian network of TPOs. We are also updating our tools to between support you. We will be unveiling a new export potential map helping SME identify potential export products and markets in keeping with the need for diversification.
As I mentioned, in 2015 ITC will launch the first of a series of annual publications on the international competitiveness of SMEs. We look forward to working with you in this regard to benefit from your experience in assessing SME clients.
As you heard during this Conference, a strong correlation has emerged in recent years between international trade and investments. Governments are looking for the most efficient ways to improve this policy alignment for investment and trade promotion. ITC's benchmarking programme can assist you to shape the future organizational structure of your agencies.
I trust that these two days of discussions have helped you. It has certainly helped ITC and helped me to have a better sense of your needs, your expertise and the potential we have to work together to increase impact. The challenge is to translate these recommendations into action.
In conclusion, I would like to announce the host of the next TPO Network World Conference and Awards in 2016. Three TPOs from Jamaica, Morocco and the Republic of Tanzania gave you a glimpse of their facilities and capabilities in hosting the next Conference.
You have chosen Morocco to host the next Conference in 2016.
I congratulate Morocco and warn you that after the amazing show and organisation of Dubai exports – the bar has been raised.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you sincerely for being here at the 2015 WTPO Conference.