ITC Executive Director closing remarks at WEDF 2023

28 June 2023
ITC News

Dear friends, colleagues and the entire ITC family:

It’s my honour to close what have been several days of rich and stimulating discussions here in Ulaanbaatar. In the world of international diplomacy, that’s usually code for: it’s been a long day and it’s time to party! And since we have a gala dinner waiting for us, let me not take up too much more of your time.

What a wonderful three days we’ve had here at WEDF 2023. I couldn’t possibly recap everything that was discussed, debated and achieved since yesterday morning. Let me just say that measured against the objectives we set for ourselves – as a community of professionals dedicated to making trade work for the Sustainable Development Goals – I couldn’t be happier with how WEDF 2023 has turned out.

First, we came to empower small businesses, women and youth, kicking off with an inspirational speech by the President of Mongolia. We raised the voices of MSMEs on the international day to celebrate their contribution to global trade, to decent jobs and to healthy societies around the world. We saw the importance of including young entrepreneurs in all aspects of global trade, and the importance of scaling up entrepreneurship and upskilling. Echoing the President’s own passionate call, we built a roadmap to empower women through trade, at a time when full gender equality seems so much farther away.

Second, we highlighted new routes to international trade that are more connected and more sustainable. We went beyond the often-depressing scenarios on climate change and artificial intelligence to understand that there are real opportunities for MSMEs in the green and digital transition. We looked at solutions tailored to developing country realities; we discussed how to make a green transition business case to MSMEs who are struggling to simply survive in these troubled times.

Third, we highlighted the critical role that ecosystems play in supporting small business. We saw how business support organizations, both public and private, can be a multiplier for the SDGs. How they can tailor their services to support MSMEs on everything from going digital to accessing new sources of capital. We saw how ecosystems, incubators and partnerships can boost the competitiveness of even the smallest firms, helping them connect to new markets and supply chains.

Fourth, we’ve put landlocked developing countries on the map. From the opening remarks on Monday by the Under-Secretary General to hearing the voices of the LLDC private sector, we have marked a step towards the LLDC Conference in Kigali next year. We heard about the importance of trade corridors and the importance of both hard and soft infrastructure. We came away with the wonderful phrase: “we might be landlocked but we are not mind-locked”. After hearing the inspiring stories of LLDC entrepreneurs, I couldn’t agree more.

Fifth and finally, we didn’t just talk business, we did business. My fellow speaker mentioned the 4.5 million dollar figure in investment leads that came out of our B2B sessions. That is a truly inspiring figure. It shows that just from a handful of selected sectors – namely, ICT, leather and natural fibres – there is a huge amount of untapped export potential for Mongolian firms outside of the extractive industries. We will of course continue to support these conversations and hopefully have even more investment leads to report in the coming months.

That’s what we’ve achieved over the last few days. But of course, ITC’s support to Mongolia doesn’t finish with this closing ceremony. Tomorrow, we’ll be holding a workshop to develop Mongolia’s National Export Strategy. This is an exercise to support Mongolia’s expressed desire to diversify its exports, which we are delivering in close collaboration with our friends at the World Bank.

The Export Strategy exercise will, of course, draw from the rich discussions we’ve had over the past few days, all in the aim of charting a green and digital path to a more diversified and more competitive export future for our host country. I extend a warm invitation to stakeholders from the Mongolian public and private sectors to join us in these consultations.

It’s a lot for one week: I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved together. And just like our client MSMEs, we simply could not have elevated the cause of trade, development and small business without the right ecosystem. And what a wonderful ecosystem we had for this twentieth WEDF.

I’d like to thank, first and foremost, our Mongolian hosts.

  • In particular, His Excellency the President and his team, who received us so warmly yesterday at the Mongolian Parliament.
  • Our focal points at the Ministry of Economic Development, as well as the focal points across all the various Ministries on the joint ITC / Government of Mongolia Task Force, to help us shape everything from the key messages to the logistics.
  • The local events planning team, who built this beautiful stage overnight and have kept the audio and video running smoothly throughout.
  • And of course our amazing team of Mongolian volunteers, who have worked so hard for the last few days to make WEDF a success.

From the WEDF launch in February, to the moment we touched down at Chinggis Khan airport, to the logistics of every session since the opening ceremony: our Mongolian partners have given us outstanding support and tireless professionalism. I really want to thank them and let me make a promise right now: I will be back to Mongolia – and next time, I’ll put aside at least a week to visit the landscapes and experience the culture that has made Mongolia the “go-to” tourist destination.

Working alongside our Mongolian hosts is my own ITC team that has worked so tirelessly to deliver our first WEDF since the pandemic. From programme design to session development; from travel logistics to B2B coordination; from mobilizing participants and to getting the WEDF message out through social media – this WEDF has really been “one-ITC” at its best. You have forsaken sleep, food and family to create an event that not only made ITC proud, but also elevated the voice of MSMEs on the international stage, at a time when the risks to their survival are the greatest. These past months and days are a testament to your professionalism, dedication and passion: thank you.

And lastly, I’d like to thank all of our international participants who made what in some cases were long journeys to join us here in beautiful Ulaanbaatar. Your presence helped put the “World” into the World Export Development Forum. Your insights have shown that we not only face common challenges in supporting small businesses through trade, but that we have so many common solutions as well. Consider yourselves, from today forward, to be officially a part of the wider ITC family.

Before I close, there is one very important agenda item to complete: the announcement of the winners of our Youth Ecopreneur pitch contest. I imagine that – like me – you were blown away by the passion, energy and enthusiasm of these young ecopreneurs. I keep having to ask myself: where on earth was that confidence, poise and creativity when I was that age?

As a mother of a budding young creative entrepreneur myself, I can only echo what I said this morning with Professor De Kai. We have a new generation of MSMEs coming into global trade that understands that the future is more inclusive, more connected and more sustainable. Rest assured: the future of global trade is in good hands.

Let me call Milena up on stage and ask my fellow speaker, Mr Sodbaatar Yangug, to join me beside the podium.

Let me first announce the winner of the “people’s choice” – all those votes that came in through the QR code. Nearly 800 of you voted so thank you for making this the real voice of the people!

And the winner of the people’s choice award is… drum roll please…. Chirag from Sunbird Straws in India! Congratulations.

Let me now announce the winner of the green business solution category…. Drum roll please…. Oyungerel from Airee, from our host country of Mongolia! Congratulations.

And finally, let me announce the winner of the land restoration category… Drum roll please…. Mashrur from iPage in Bangladesh! Congratulations.

Let me now conclude so we can all head to dinner. As I said earlier, we couldn’t have done this without our Mongolian friends. So let me ask Sibylle to bring me a special certificate of thanks to our Mongolian hosts to present to my fellow speaker, the Chief of Staff to the President. Once again, thank you and I promise: we’ll be back.

Thank you again and let me officially bring WEDF 2023 to a close.