ITC Executive Director opening remarks at WEDF 2016

12 October 2016
ITC News

Your Excellency Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka,

Your Excellency Malik Samarawickrama, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade,

Ms. Indira Malwatte, Chairperson & Chief Executive, Sri Lanka Export Development Board

Honourable Ministers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Subha udhaesanak (su-ba ud-hay-sanak)!

In case my attempt at Sinhalese failed miserably, good morning, and welcome to the World Export Development Forum!

On behalf of the International Trade Centre, I would like to extend our gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka for partnering with us to host this sixteenth edition of our flagship event here in Colombo.

Lanka, its Government, its private sector, itsinstitutions are determined to advance broad based, inclusive growth through trade.

And this is why, ITC, the joint development agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation fully dedicated to supporting developing countries succeed in international trade and investment, is proud to stand by your side today.

Over the past year, Sri Lankan Export Development Board, and ITC, have worked closely to put together an impactful WEDF programme for you. Insights from global thought leaders in the private sector and government will enrich discussions to address concrete challenges facing businesses in navigating the world economy, enabling them to create more and better jobs. Carefully curated business matchmaking will be complemented by a programme of company visits and cultural highlights.

We will discuss how to make trade possible.

The trade agreements of the XXI century must respond to the economic and social realities of the XXI century. In the trade topography of today, we are seeing production dispersed in value chains that extend around the world. While this has created new opportunities for trade-led growth and job creation, tapping into value chains requires countries to address tariffs, but equally to open trade in services, from logistics, to telecommunications or to financial services, not to forget tourism. And to address non-tariff measures, such as standards and regulations.

And in doing so, we must look at how we synergize trade opening at the multilateral level with regional trade agreements, which now includes so-called ‘mega-regional’ initiatives involving some of the world’s biggest economies.

But making trade possible is only a first step. There is still a need to make trade happen.

Over these two days, we will look at how governments can help trade and investment by improving the business environment. We will look at how trade and investment support institutions can provide targeted services to help businesses internationalise.

And by focusing on the theme for this event - Trade for Success: Connect, Compete, Change - we will examine the three critical determinants for businesses to improve their competitiveness and use international markets to drive inclusive growth.

Digital trade has rendered entire services sectors tradable, liberating them from the constraints of geography. Even for physical merchandise, e-commerce has created new opportunities for ‘micro-multinational’ SMEs to link up to customers around the world. Yet much needs to be done to open the digital economy to all, from improving connectivity, to facilitating payment systems or organizing logistics.

To help businesses go digital, ITC and Alibaba will be launching a new publication spelling out how Asian firms - how Sri Lankan companies - can use e-commerce to break into the Chinese marketplace.

Alongside these transformations in investment and trade, a revolution is underway on the consumption side, as consumers increasingly emphasize social and environmental considerations in their purchases. We must ensure that we improve the quality of trade while supporting all business to match standards and regulations.

The forums plenaries will be backed up by ‘in-focus’ sessions on logistics and innovation, each offering practical business cases and intelligence on how to connect, compete and change. "How-to" workshops and e-learning courses through ITC’s SME Trade Academy will provide an introduction to tools that will help you or your stakeholders better understand and reach new markets.

We also want the forum to deliver concrete results, new business deals, new partnerships and expanded commercial and professional networks.

Yesterday, over 160 companies from Sri Lanka and from more than 30 countries around the world already started to explore potential deals. B2B matchmaking meetings have the potential to generate concrete results particularly in the specialty foods sector, tourism, IT and business process outsourcing.

Before closing, I want to call attention to two issues that I hope will underpin all of our deliberations here. Both relate to ensuring that the benefits of the open global economy are broadly shared by all.

First, for trade to be truly inclusive, we need to ensure that women and youth are not relegated to the margins. The economic power of women and youth has yet to be fully tapped.

This is why we have special sessions on youth entrepreneurship. And this is also why tomorrow the Colombo Stock Exchange will ring its opening bell for "SheTrades" in a ceremony hosted by EDB, the Women’s Chamber of Industry & Commerce and ITC.

The second inclusion I want to talk about is geographic. The world’s center of economic gravity is returning to Asia. By 2030, an estimated two-thirds of the global middle class will be in Asia. But we need to ensure everyone shares in this process.

At the heart of Indian Ocean maritime routes, Sri Lanka is strategically poised between today’s growth poles in East and South Asia, and tomorrow’s growth poles in Africa. Sri Lanka cannot miss this opportunity to return to its rightful place in the trading routes.

Sadarayen piligannawa. Welcome to WEDF!

Thank you.

Thank you.