ITC Executive Director Remarks at the 51ST session of the Joint Advisory Group

10 July 2017
ITC News

Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the 51st session of the Joint Advisory Group meeting
WTO - Geneva

Welcome to the Joint Advisory Group.

Let me start by thanking WTO Director-General Azevedo and UNCTAD Secretary-General Kituyi for their remarks and their vote of confidence in ITC to deliver trade impact for good.

I would like to pay tribute to Ambassador Kebret Botora of Ethiopia for his able chairmanship of the 50th session of the JAG, and welcome Ambassador Frances Lisson of Australia as Chair of this 51st session.

I congratulate Albert Muchanga on his appointment as African Union Commissioner for Trade and Industry and thank him for joining us today as a clear signal of the desire to build a strong partnership between ITC and the African Union.

Finally, I want to salute the presence H.E Fatoumata Jallow Tanbajang, Vice President and Minister of Women’s Affairs of The Gambia, Hon. Dr. Isatou Touray, Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional integration and Employment and the Hon. Amat NK Bah, Minister of Tourism and Culture , who are with us at a critical moment in The Gambia’s history. All of us have a duty to empower Gambians to seize this window of opportunity to use trade to drive growth, create jobs, and consolidate their new democracy.

This duty goes to the heart of why ITC's mandate is to bridge the gap between opening market opportunities and making trade happen.

Today’s meeting is about shaping ITC’s priorities for the months to come. But it’s also about reviewing recent work. The Annual Report in front of you describes how ITC delivered trade impact for good in 2016.

Let me look at a few key achievements from last year, and indicate how ITC is preparing for the challenges ahead to contribute to making the 2030 Agenda a reality.

Strong demand despite funding challenges; focus on impact and priority countries

ITC’s extra budgetary expenditures in 2016 totalled $48 million, with total delivery of technical assistance, capacity support and market intelligence of $85.4 million. This was lower than 2015’s record high, as some funders were compelled by unforeseeable circumstances to divert finite resources elsewhere. Nevertheless, demand for ITC services is stronger than ever, as attested to by over $200 million in pipeline projects – including some projects that are designed to address the emergent crises that prompted the diversions.

Strong demand from our clients is only one sign – albeit an important one – that ITC’s interventions are having a clear impact. That’s why for the first time, we have worked to measure and quantify the cumulative effect of our interventions. ITC support in 2016 resulted in an estimated $685 million of additional export and investments. That’s about $14 of exports and investment for every dollar in extra-budgetary funding ITC receives.

ITC is creating impact that lasts long after projects are completed. An evaluation of a Netherlands-funded project in Uganda that ran from 2009 to 2012 found that the small-scale coffee farmers associated with the project had sustained the income gains associated with better farming practice, higher quality, and better marketing. Beneficiary households’ incomes were, in 2015, nearly three times higher than those in otherwise comparable households.

You will hear more about progress to analyse the results and impact of our interventions this afternoon. But I want to assure you that we are not resting on our laurels: we are now working across ITC to enhance our ability to evaluate projects and integrate lessons from past evaluations into project design. We want to champion approaches that work, and abandon those that do not.

Alongside these efforts to measure and maximize impact, we have increasingly concentrated our focus on the places and communities that present the most urgent development needs.

Last year, over 85% of our country-specific interventions focused on our priority countries, that is, LDCs, sub-Saharan Africa, landlocked developing countries, small island developing states, small vulnerable economies, and post-conflict states. More than half of the enterprises we supported to become more competitive or connect to international buyers were owned and operated by women.

But in doing so, we have also responded to strong demand coming from other parts of the world including Latin America, Asia and Central Asia where we have expanded our footprint.

Our dual emphasis on the ‘bottom billion’ countries and on people at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ means that ITC projects operate in very challenging environments. It requires us to contextualise our responses. It means increased risks. But it also means that success yields the largest socioeconomic returns on investment.

ITC is fully aligned with the Global Goals

These same countries and communities are where we will succeed or fail at ending extreme poverty by 2030 - the first Sustainable Development Goal.

The Global Goals are ITC’s goals. It is micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that will generate the bulk of jobs for fast-growing populations around the world.

When MSMEs improve their competitiveness and thrive in international markets, they lift incomes and reduce poverty in the lower reaches of the income distribution, especially in rural areas. And this is precisely why trade matters!

When these MSMEs are owned and operated by women, it means better-educated, better-nourished families. When these MSMEs create employment opportunities for youth, migratory pressures diminish.

When market incentives are aligned with incentives for good environmental practice, it means responsible production and consumption.

This is what the SDGs are about. This is why ITC focuses on fostering MSME competitiveness and value addition, on empowering women and young people, and on encouraging sustainable production and trade. And it is why, as you’ll hear this afternoon, ITC’s next strategic plan will centre on “Trade Routes to 2030”.

ITC’s six focus areas have already been fully aligned with the 10 SDGs most relevant for our interventions, as you can see in the annual report before you.

ITC's operational structure has also been aligned to deliver on the goals.

We have also streamlined our programmatic approach- and developed a one-ITC logframe, theories of change underpinning all programmes, project design processes, and the establishment of an Innovation Lab to foster creative solutions and partnerships.

In 2016 we have continued progress towards gender parity at all levels. 42% of professional staff are women, on track towards our 44% target for this year. 52% of fixed-term recruitment competitions were won by women. ITC’s strongest asset – our 315-member staff, hailing from 83 different countries – is firmly committed to gender equity. The SDGs start at home, after all.

Highlights from 2016

Turning now to a few highlights from ITC’s work in 2016.

The second edition of ITC’s flagship SME Competitiveness Outlook provided thought leadership and analysis, this time on how policymakers can best ensure that standards and regulations work for and not against MSMEs.

Our trade and market intelligence tools continue to make it easier and cheaper for businesses to trade. With 600 000 registered users, in 2016 the tools facilitated an estimated $300 million in trade transactions.

We have added an Export Potential Map to help users spot sectors and markets in which promising export opportunities are going unrealized.

Together with the WTO and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, we launched ePing, an alert system notifying users when countries announce changes to standards and regulations, helping them adjust to change.

Meanwhile, our surveys of more than 14 000 businesses documented the types of non-tariff measures (NTMs) they encounter in their day-to-day operations. This has led to policy reforms that continue to smooth the path to international markets for SMEs.

We are taking the next step in providing trade and market intelligence to MSMEs by collaborating with the WTO and UNCTAD to launch an ‘SME Trade Help Desk’ at the WTO Ministerial later this year in Argentina. This ‘one stop shop’ for SMEs will allow them with a click of a button, to access an incredible array of trade data, intelligence and analysis that will help push their competitiveness agenda.

On the training front, ITC’s SME Trade Academy grew in course offerings, participants – 17 000 at the end of 2016 - and geographic scope, including a pilot course on entrepreneurship in Libya covering more than 300 young people which has showed the potential for developing entrepreneurial skills in fragile states.

In 2016, we partnered with others, particularly UNCTAD, WTO and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, to help implement the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, including at the regional level such as within UEMOA and ECOWAS. Six countries that ITC supported – Afghanistan, Dominica, Jamaica, Mali, Senegal, and Sri Lanka – ratified the agreement last year.

We have supported Trade and investment support institutions to improve their performance and deliver greater value for money. An impact study of ITC with researchers at the University of Geneva unveiled in 2016 shows that each additional dollar spent on export promotion generates an additional $87 in exports and $384 in GDP.

ITC has worked around the world to enable MSMEs to add value and connect to value chains,from the Caribbean coconut sector, to Nepal’s pashmina industry or Zambian honey producers.

In Myanmar, our support to Kayah State, together with The Netherlands, helped local tourism providers double their receipts since 2014.

Targeted sector development projects in IT services and agriculture created over 1200 jobs in Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda.

Our work in partnership with DHL Express, eBay, Alibaba and Sidley Austin, has helped a growing number of MSMEs make the most of e-commerce. Our ‘E-Commerce Caravan’ last July allowed more than 70 MSMEs from Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, and Syria to sell goods to customers in Geneva and Zurich. More importantly, the pop-up stores helped the companies build the reputations that are critical to any internet-based business, and generate more online traffic.

Empowering women, young people, and poor communities to trade remains at the very heart of ITC’s work. We helped connect 600 000 women to markets through the SheTrades initiative. Business-to-business networking as well as its matchmaking app catalyzed $11 million in business leads and deals.

We helped handicraft makers in Vanuatu come together to form that country’s first association of women exporters, providing support to improve production and business skills.

In Morocco and Liberia, we worked with young entrepreneurs to help them overcome trade obstacles in promising export sectors.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative continued to connect artisans in poor communities to the global fashion industry. Incomes for participating micro-producers more than tripled in Haiti, while increasing by 400% in Burkina Faso and Mali. The initiative’s Nairobi hub is now thriving under private local ownership, demonstrating that the market links forged there are now sustainable without external support.

In keeping with our focus on vulnerable communities, ITC has been developing new approaches to use trade to generate income opportunities for refugees and internally displaced.This is what we did with internet-based data entry and translation services by refugees in southern Uganda and ethical fashion in refugee camps in Burkina Faso.

Finally, ITC worked to promote South-South trade, from Kenyan mango sales to the Middle East to fostering new business ties between Tunisian textile producers and Egyptian suppliers. Our two biggest South-South projects are working to bolster trade and investment ties between Africa and the two biggest emerging economies: China and India. The Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project last year resulted in $15 million worth of orders for pulses from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, with $60 million more in investment in trade deals under negotiation. The China-focused Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa (PIGA), still in its ‘scoping’ phase, has already led to promising discussions between Chinese companies and partners in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia.

Looking ahead

I believe it is safe to say 2016 was, despite the challenges, a good year for ITC. A year in which we were able to translate the support our funders provided into meaningful improvements in the lives of people. And one in which we invested in partnerships to expand our impact well beyond the direct reach of ITC projects.

I thank you, our funders, for placing your trust in ITC as an implementer of Aid for Trade projects for inclusive and sustainable growth.

2017 is off to a flying start. In February we launched the Gambia Youth Empowerment Project in partnership with the Government of The Gambia and the European Union to support skills training, value addition, and entrepreneurship. It aims to generate jobs for young people, providing attractive livelihood alternatives to dangerous migration. In March, we launched SheTrades in Rwanda and in May in Colombia. Also in May, we signed a cooperation agreement with China to support MSMEs to make the most of the Belt and Road Initiative. Last month, we led the UN family in marking the first international MSME Day in Geneva and in New York.

Looking ahead to September, the fourth Trade for Sustainable Development (T4SD) Forum will gather public and private sector stakeholders to develop concrete suggestions to promote sustainable value chains. The upcoming edition of the SME Competitiveness Outlook will take a deep dive into regional trade agreements and what trade policymakers and businesses can do to help MSMEs benefit from regional integration. And the World Export Development Forum in Hungary this October will focus on making trade work for the 99%. I invite all of you to attend.

Last year, I said that there were clouds on the horizon for ITC. The situation has improved but I have to reiterate the importance of sustainable and predictable funding, including un-earmarked funds which allows us to invest in innovation and adapt to the changing environment.

The most convincing argument I can make in requesting your continued support is that ITC provides value for money. That its drive to fully align with country and regional needs, to constantly innovate, to adapt, to learn from its experience and to expand its partnerships including playing our full part in the one-UN partnerships on the ground, is generating results and impact.

This is the direction I intend to keep as we build our next Strategic Plan 2018-2021 for which we would appreciate your input.

In closing, let me thank the entire ITC staff for their hard work and dedication, while extending special thanks to the senior management team led by Deputy Executive Director Dorothy Tembo. ITC couldn’t deliver trade impact for good without them.

A few days ago the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ‘Our support to countries must contribute to creating decent jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities, particularly for young people, and increase women’s participation in the workforce, empowering people to have stewardship over their future.’ ITC’s mandate fits squarely with this purpose. And this is precisely what we intend to pursue in 2017.

Thank you for your attention.