Developing future trade policy leaders

12 December 2011
ITC News

Building the capacity to participate in global trade is becoming increasingly critical for economic growth in developing countries. This is not a task with a clear start and end; it is a process that has to be set in motion with small initiatives. One of those initiatives is the 2010 Trade Leaders Programme developed by ITC and sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

The programme was designed to train a small group of government officials in trade issues and analysis, empowering them to lead development initiatives in their country and to share what they learn with others. Three future trade leaders were handpicked from a pool of candidates representing African countries involved with the Joint Integrated Technical Assistance Programme (JITAP): Max Wengawenga from Malawi, Catherine Kithinji from Kenya and Paulin Zambelongo from Burkina Faso. The intense six-month programme gave them a grounding in the fundamentals of trade-related analysis, including how to identify opportunities to improve national export performance through product and market diversification, and how to analyse market opportunities and obstacles.

International Trade Forum followed up with the 2010 participants to ask them about the impact of the programme on their work and to hear their perspectives on the business environment in their country.


Max Wengawenga 
Senior Economist, Ministry of Trade and Industry of Malawi

TF: What has changed for you since you participated in the Trade Leaders Programme? 
Wengawenga: My efficiency in trade analysis has improved. Using ITC tools, I spend less time and money searching for information. Furthermore, my training skills have improved remarkably. I have run several training sessions for business people since then, and this has given me a better understanding of their experiences, expectations and challenges. Now I’m able to provide more relevant advice to the government on how to support the private sector.

TF: What is the impact of trade in people’s lives in Malawi? 
Wengawenga: In 2010–2011 the export sales for tobacco [Malawi’s main export product] dropped sharply. This situation created a huge drop in foreign exchange earnings and led to serious shortages of fuel. The fuel shortage has translated into a slowdown of the manufacturing industries in the country, creating fear of job losses, and also caused mobility problems in general. So the importance of international trade cannot be overstated.

TF: Aid for Trade is becoming a hot topic for debate, but can it make a real impact? 
Wengawenga: There are two key challenges for Malawi. First, Aid for Trade has to address the economic infrastructure by targeting three areas: power generation, given that 25% of production costs in Malawi are due to blackouts; roads, to improve our ability to transport products to other regions and countries; and technology, since that is what gives people access to essential market information. The second challenge is supporting productive capacity – especially skills and capability building to properly supply products and services.

TF: How can the situation of women entrepreneurs in Malawi be improved? 
Wengawenga: Trade is a fight against poverty, and 70% of poor people are women. Therefore their role is critical in the fight against poverty. In Malawi, we have a good number of women entrepreneurs that are very fine role models. It is very important that we continue supporting them. One way to help them would be to create products or policies targeted at women, for example giving them access to loans. After all, they seem to be better than men at paying them back.


Catherine Kithinji 
Senior Trade Development Officer, Ministry of Trade of Kenya

TF: How has your day-to-day work changed now that you are a ‘trade leader’? 
Kithinji: My daily work in Kenya has been to train my colleagues and other officers from trade support institutions on market analysis and research tools. The ITC training made that work easier. Previously we had to call Kenya’s Export Promotion Council for any trade statistics needed. 
Since June 2011, I have been posted in South Sudan, where my main objective is to mentor and coach South Sudan officials. My duties also include assisting the new state in structuring their Ministry of Commerce and Industry and developing the ministry’s strategic plan with key stakeholders. This has been a golden opportunity to entrench some of the areas learned from ITC, including MAR tools and National Export Strategy (NES).

TF: What is the impact of international trade and trade policy on people’s lives? 
Kithinji: Working recently in South Sudan, I have experienced the effects caused by closed borders. Before South Sudan’s independence this year, products were traded freely between the North and South. However, after independence, Sudan closed the border with South Sudan. In a matter of months, prices of essential items such as fuel, food and other household products rose to unmanageable levels. The areas that border the North, such as the Upper Nile, have had little or no vehicle movement. Essentials have to be purchased at phenomenal prices. As a result, a large number of counterfeit and substandard products are entering the country illegally.

TF: What is women’s role in trade in Kenya and South Sudan?
Kithinji: Women are the backbone of African societies. They are responsible for about 80% of the food produced in many parts of Africa. The role played by women in a society can therefore not be underestimated if a country is to achieve sustainable economic growth. However, in regions destroyed by war such as South Sudan, the culture of sitting to wait for help has become entrenched in their way of life. This attitude needs to change, to create a prospering and working nation. This is why women need to be included in the value chain, right from production all the way to marketing and exporting. I am currently engaged in developing strategies and activities to bring women together in productive groups to train them on how to manage small-scale businesses.


Paulin Zambelongo 
Councillor of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Trade of Burkina Faso

TF: The recent survey on non-tariff measures in Burkina Faso identified some inhibiting factors in the economy. What is needed to overcome them? 
Zambelongo: The main barriers are linked to certification requirements for import and export, and to administrative procedure delays. To provide possible solutions, I would refer to the restitution workshop held at Ouagadougou in November 2010, because I believe the needs identified there are crucial. These included national laboratories to facilitate the evaluation and certification of exported products, simplified SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] export procedures and better communication between the private and public sector. These needs will most likely be addressed for three reasons: first, an ITC mission has been in Burkina Faso to evaluate the laboratories; second, they will probably be taken into account in the new National Quality Policy; and last, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, which I am currently working on, could be a trampoline for their implementation and could mobilize the necessary resources.

TF: How important is communication between the public and private sector to overcome trade barriers? 
Zambelongo:  Information flow is essential. On the one hand, it is the public sector that negotiates trade barriers but the private sector that faces them. On the other hand, the private sector needs information on trade barriers when operating. I recently heard of a Burkinabè sesame exporter who lost all his goods at the Chinese border because he did not know he needed phytosanitary certification.

TF: What effect has the Trade Leaders Programme had on your work?  
Zambelongo: The time spent at ITC has improved the way I analyze trade information. I feel that the way I work is more professional. I have also kept contact with my colleagues from the programme. They provide help and support whenever needed.