Closing Statement of ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the World Export Development Forum
21 October 2015 - Doha, Qatar
Ladies and Gentlemen
We have come to the end of two very productive days of discussions.
My special thanks to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Economy and Commerce for their presence yesterday; to our esteemed panellists who gave us so much to think about; and to each and every one of you for being with us all through the conference.
I also want to thank the Qatar Development Board, and its CEO, Mr. Abdulaziz Bin Nasser Al-Khalifa, for being our partners in making this event a success. ITC looks forward to working with QDB to ensure that a dynamic, diversified SME sector helps Qatar achieve its ambitious national vision for 2030.
Finally, we at ITC would like to express our gratitude to Qatar for being such a great host. We could not have picked a better place for the first World Export Development Forum to be held in the Middle East.
$80 million in prospective B2B deals
As I said in my opening remarks, the World Export Development Forum is about talking business and doing business.
Well, over 700 of us, from 92 registered countries, including 26 LDCs, have talked business. And we have done business. The incredibly productive B2B sessions have yielded around 90 declarations of intent to do business worth a total of $80 million. The prospective deals cut across sectors, from bottled water and juice production to distribution services. And significantly, most of the deals were for South-South trade and investment. Five trade promotion organisations – from Georgia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Vietnam and Egypt – signed agreements of cooperation in export development. We facilitated the meetings, but it is you who made these deals happen. Please do continue to update us on how these leads develop. ITC stands ready to help you bring them to fruition.
The theme of this WEDF was Innovate, Invest and Internationalize. Companies – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – need to be able to do all three if they are to be the backbone of sustainable, productive, and competitive economies. This is one reason the B2B deals struck here are so important - operating across borders helps companies learn new ways to innovate and become more productive.
But there’s much that all of us - policymakers, businesses, trade and investment support institutions, international agencies – can do to create an environment more supportive of each of these three “I”s. And after exchanging views with you over the past two days, I am certainly leaving with some new ideas about what we can do – and I hope I’m not the only person who feels that way!
Let’s look at ‘innovation’ first. In a session yesterday, we heard how technology is levelling the playing field for SMEs to break into world markets through e-commerce. As one panellist said, “Twenty years ago it took years to internationalize. Now it happens in minutes." But companies need a digitally literate workforce to take full advantage of e-commerce. And even if more and more SMEs are ‘born global’, they still need help meeting regulations, standards, and other non-tariff measures. That’s why, earlier today, we launched a publication and tool aimed at helping SMEs take advantage of the fast-growing market for halal foods. E-commerce is an area that ITC will be focusing on in the next months. Moving to the next stage on halal products will also be a priority.
The next pillar is ‘investment’. Foreign investment can be an important vehicle for new ideas and modern technology. It can drive economic diversification, as we heard here in the case of Qatar, which in turn makes growth resilient to sector-specific volatility. We heard that regional integration can help achieve the market size that foreign investors seek. We heard the very compelling example of East Africa – whether you enter through Rwanda or Kenya, you get to a market that is greater than the sum of its parts. But truly removing barriers and reducing trade costs and times within regions requires serious political will, and a willingness to confront special interests. We heard that special export zones can serve as laboratories for investment-attracting policy reforms that can later spread country-wide.
We need to move from recognising the importance of tourism to ensuring that more efforts are catalysed at the national and international levels to make tourism a source of inclusive growth.
And Investment is not just about physical infrastructure, or about direct investment in factories. Investment is also about any country’s biggest asset – its people. Investing in human capital, in building skilled workforces, is the key to success in the 21st century. This is why we will continue to focus on building skills for trade, through our SME Trade Academy.
The final pillar is ‘internationalisation.’ It’s no longer just about exports. It’s about investment. It’s about imports, too. In fact, ready access to imported inputs is now critical for export competitiveness! When SMEs connect to markets – both international and domestic – it means better jobs and higher wages spread across a wide cross-section of society. This is why it’s important to keep trade high on our agenda as a means to advance good growth.
Before closing, I want us all to take a step back, and remind ourselves that trade, investment, and international business deals represent much more. Individually, they are the lifeblood of competitive SMEs. Collectively, they add up to expanded life opportunities for the women, men, and young people that have, all too often, been left on the margins of our growing prosperity.
We hope that ensuring that the multilateral trading system remains open and transparent to allow SMEs to trade will be at the core of the discussions in Nairobi in December at the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference.
In closing, I was especially pleased that this Conference was framed by the commitments all UN members made a few weeks ago in New York on the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. As [Rwandan Minister for East African Community] Valentine Rugwabiza said yesterday, “let WEDF 2015 be remembered as the start of the implementation of the Global Goals, with business and government coming together.”
Finally, I am delighted to announce that next year’s edition of the World Export Development Forum will be held in Sri Lanka. I look forward to welcoming all of you to Sri Lanka next year.