ITC Executive Director opening comments at the 12th World Trade Promotion Organizations Conference (WTPO)
C’est toujours un bonheur d’être à Paris et merci au Ministère de l’Economie et des finances ainsi que à Business France pour votre accueil chaleureux.
On behalf of the International Trade Centre, it is a pleasure to welcome you to this 12th edition of the World Trade Promotion Organization Conference.
I would like to thank our partners and co-hosts, Business France, for making this edition possible.
This conference continues to be a unique forum for agencies like yours to come together to share experiences and exchange ideas about what works for trade and investment promotion today, and what challenges we are likely to face tomorrow.
The high level of participation - 86 countries are represented here by more than 150 different institutions, with 54 represented by the Chair or CEO – attests to the value each of you place on this event.
We gather this year against the backdrop of turbulences, both for companies seeking to trade and for the institutions that work to support them.
The rules-based system that has underpinned the open global economy is facing strong headwinds. The unilateralist temptation is perhaps understandable. Yet the fact is that one-way, short-term policies will never be effective to address systemic problems that affect all of us who live and trade with each other on this planet that we share.
The world has in recent decades become increasingly multipolar, as developing countries’ share of global economic activity has started to catch up with their share of the global population.
South-South trade has almost doubled in the last 15 years from a modest 14% in 2001 to almost 30% today, and according to UN Conference on Trade and Development, the share of developing economies in global FDIs is now at 66%, a historic record.
Two key drivers of the rapid growth in developing countries were technology and predictable open global markets. The two combined to give rise to the cross-border value chains that define modern trade and investment.
Today, a new generation of technologies present new opportunities – but also new challenges– for businesses big and small.
Technology has always transformed what we trade and how we trade it. This was true in the 1870s, when refrigerated ships brought Argentine beef to French dining tables. It was true in the 1990s, when plummeting telecommunications made it feasible to locate call centres in Dakar or Manila. And it is true today: for the digitized books we download across borders, or the small businesses in Nairobi or Kigali that use platforms like Alibaba and Etsy to find customers for their jewellery or engineering drawings.
The ongoing digital revolution offers enormous potential for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). But it also comes with risks of exclusion: for firms unable to harness big data; for people who lack marketable skills; for businesses and communities that lack last mile connectivity for digital and physical infrastructure; for women who are typically less likely than men to have internet access.
So what does all this mean for the world of Trade and Investment Promotion Organisations (TIPOs)? I would like to put on the table three big changes that are transforming the role of TIPOs.
First, a shift in philosophy from increased exports to better-quality growth. We know why trade matters. When more businesses succeed in the global marketplace, it typically contributes to economy-wide gains in competitiveness, productivity, better jobs and living standards. That’s why trade and investment promotion organizations were created: to lower the barriers and risks for would-be exporters. It’s why your agencies receive – and deserve – public funding. And it’s why supporting trade and investment promotion organizations to measure and maximize their effectiveness is a key pillar of ITC’s work.
But we also know that it is no longer just about headline export figures. Inclusiveness matters. When SMEs, women owned businesses or young entrepreneurs and start-ups trade the benefits of their internationalisation are more broadly shared. And sustainability matters too. Unsustainable production depletes our shared natural resources, and contributes to environmental degradation that hits the poorest people the hardest. There are signs that consumers are eager for change. The last Nielson Consumer Survey found that more than two-thirds of consumers worldwide are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. Consumers in emerging markets in particular are profoundly changing their buying patterns: choosing premium products for greater quality, healthier lifestyles, and expressing greater trust in brands, standards and labels.
Trade and investment promotion organisations can play a key role in driving these changes and accelerating the shift towards sustainable patterns of production and consumption, by big and small firms alike. Doing so would help us achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Second, a transformation of trade and investment support institutions from matchmakers to trust-builders.
Digital technologies are changing the way companies do business. New technologies are connecting buyers and sellers across more locations and activities, opening opportunities for some but putting others under pressure. Nevertheless, one thing is clear for all firms: those who do not adjust will find it harder to thrive in the digital age.
If businesses, in particular SMEs, remain disconnected from new technologies, the benefits of changes almost certainly will not be shared broadly. Moreover, the nature of new technologies may lead to the emergence of few dominant players, bringing market distortions that could harm consumers as well as smaller firms. Creating an ecosystem that allows SMEs to navigate technological change is therefore crucial for inclusive growth and fostering competitive markets.
The ecosystem of institutions that surround and support businesses play an important role in equipping them to take full advantage of trade and digitalization. You, trade and investment support organisations, are an essential part of this ecosystem, and can play a key role in enabling smaller businesses to benefit from big data, while fostering greater public trust in new technologies.
The latest edition of our flagship SME Competitiveness Outlook, about which you will hear more tomorrow, spells out an agenda for building effective ecosystems for the fourth industrial revolution.
Third, from soloist to orchestra conductor.
Over the next two days we will be looking at the emerging role of trade and investment promotion organizations as catalysts for cooperation among other actors within the business ecosystem to better support MSMEs to add value and become more competitive. For years, you have operated as soloists, with a narrow mandate and focus to connect businesses to international market opportunities. In the digital age, to be maximally effective, you will have to think of yourselves more as conductors of the orchestra.
During this conference, sessions with keynote speakers, TIPO leaders, and other experts will inspire with big ideas, share real life examples, as well as tips and new tools for action.
The broader global context today means that the stakes for effective trade promotion are particularly high. With policy uncertainty in some markets, making the most of existing market access is more important than ever.
Our keynote speaker Ian Goldin will tell us more about ongoing global changes and how they can serve as a compass for trade and investment promotion organisations and other actors. A professor of globalisation and development at Oxford, Ian is a remarkable interdisciplinary thinker on a great many issues, among them business, inclusive growth and sustainability.
Before handing the floor to Professor Goldin, I want to urge you to use this time together to meet old friends and make new ones. To share ideas and harvest new ones. And to create momentum for new ways of working together in the future.