Commercial diplomacy in changing times

26 June 2020
ITC News
The challenge

Commercial diplomacy has entered a new era. Doing business across borders is changing fast. Trade and investment policies are changing rapidly, both regional and national. New risks that affect businesses are emerging, from a rise in natural disasters, financial shocks, trade tensions, climate change effect and even pandemics.

The digital economy is profoundly changing how companies work, with whom, and their client base. All of these changes influence how companies navigate international markets. Those who conduct commercial diplomacy, like the businesses they advise, need new ways of working, new skills and new partnerships.

The solution

Continuous learning and change is a hallmark of all successful organizations. The International Trade Centre created The Commercial Diplomacy Toolkit, an integrated learning package for commercial diplomacy, to meet the needs of trade representatives and commercial attachés from all backgrounds and experience levels. The toolkit comprises three elements: a guide, e-learning and tailored training workshops.

The Guide to Commercial Diplomacy is the pillar of this package. The extensive research and peer review served as a way to explore new trends, tap into networks to assess current challenges, and offer tested suggestions.

ITC issued its first guide for trade representatives in 1973, updated it in 2013 and again in 2019.

One of ITC’s most popular guides online in 2019, it is available in English, French and Spanish. A unique international reference, it offers insight into the valuable role of national commercial diplomacy. It draws upon the insights of many countries in all regions, and the lead author was the head of a major national trade promotion body, with extensive first-hand experience abroad.

The guide tells the story through the perspective of Asha, a French-speaking diplomat from an African country, posted in Europe for the first time. The guide also offers practical checklists to help trade representatives located abroad, covering most typical situations.

Perhaps most importantly, the guide advises on how to build a strong network. This is often a challenge for trade representatives working abroad. Yet it is the key, more than ever, to successfully delivering a package of services that brings more export sales for their clients, or unlocks new inward investment.

The Guide to Commercial Diplomacy is the central pillar of new e-learning courses on commercial diplomacy, which are free online at ITC’s SME Trade Academy.

More than 1,000 participants from over 60 countries enrolled in the Commercial Diplomacy e-learning courses in 2019.

Participants were from more than 80 institutions worldwide, mostly public and private business support organisations or universities. The e-learning courses were in English and French.

A tailored training programme for government institutions managing commercial diplomacy is also available in the three languages. Using the Guide to Commercial Diplomacy as a springboard for training, these workshops are customised, highly practical and interactive. They combine training on the diplomatic and commercial skills, with refresher training on ITCs market intelligence tools. Experienced commercial diplomats bring their insights and stories from the front line.

In 2019 participants in Cambodia, Madagascar and Nepal explored new ways to build business intelligence and create partnerships to generate trade and investment.

‘The training is informative, rewarding, dynamic and interactive,’ said Mbola Andrianatoandro, a Diplomatic and Consular Agent for Madagascar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘The sessions gave me a lot of ideas and opened up many perspectives.’

The future

ITC is developing a new interactive edition in 2020 to enhance training courses and online learning.

Ministries of foreign affairs and of trade, as well as trade and investment promotion agencies, are finding the package useful. It supports new diplomats as well as current staff by focusing on trade and business skills, including prior to their postings abroad.

Schools of diplomacy and international relations will find the guide a hands-on addition to their curriculum. Business associations, chambers of commerce and line ministries will also benefit from the guide.

Read the Guide to Commercial Diplomacy online at and start with the video of A Day in the Life of Asha, the fictitious trade representative.

For a large group, an exclusive training course on-line can be scheduled to meet specific needs or timelines.