Putting the focus on regional impact

24 May 2012
ITC News

In July and October 2011, through a programme organized by ITC and COMESA, a group of Ethiopian leather tanners travelled to India and Italy to meet with prospective buyers. The business owners, all members of the Ethiopian Leather Industries Association (ELIA), not only landed newcontracts, they also learned techniques to improve the marketability of their products by engaging with these customers. The business meetings were part of PACT II, which assists African producers in finding new export markets and increasing their production.

As a result of their prospecting efforts, the companies increased their exports to Italy and India to such an extent that they have had to expand theirproduction facilities to meet demand.

“Effectively, the new business partners helped with the evolution of the products themselves, as well as growing our members’ businesses,” said Abdissa Adugna, Secretary-General of ELIA, which has 57 members representing the country’s entire leather industry. “[The programme] has also helped ourmembers improve their communications and market outreach, enabling them to better target the more developed markets in India and Italy.”

Providing technical support to the RECs

Much of ITC’s work involves building the capacity of TSIs such as COMESA so they can, in turn, assist small- and medium-sized exporters more effectively. As part of PACT II, ITC is working with the three main African regional economic communities (RECs), in support of their charters as free and open trading areas, and to improve efficiencies in African trade.

In 2011, PACT II’s third year, ITC coordinated 25 capacity-building workshops in 18 countries, on topics ranging from ECOWAS mango and ECCAS coffee export strategies to regional and intraregional market opportunities. The US$ 20.5 million PACT II project is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

A highlight of the past year was the ECOWAS Export Actors Forum, held in Cotonou, Benin, in December, according to Philippe Tokpanou, Regional Trade Adviser at ECOWAS. More than 150 participants from 14 of the 15 ECOWAS member States — including high-level government representatives and private entrepreneurs — met to discuss challenges and priorities, and to formulate a plan for regional export development.

“Despite the impressive growth in the region over the past decade, our infrastructure needs to be improved and our barriers to trade need to be reduced,” Tokpanou said. “This is what the continent’s private-sector exporters see as a daily challenge and what we were able to help them communicate to the highest levels of government at the forum.”

Establishing a network of trade expertise

PACT II has also been working with ECOWAS to establish a new mechanism for strengthening regional trade. ECOWAS-TEN is a network of public- and privatesector trade experts, founded in 2010, representing all 15 member countries of the REC. Its mission is to promote and develop exports in West Africa, thereby contributing to economic and social development.

Towards greater intra-African trade

With support from ITC and input from exporters, COMESA has designed a strategic plan for 2012–2016 aimed at expanding exports, including within the region. ELIA’s Adugna has similar aspirations for the leather sector in Ethiopia. “The aim for the ELIA is to increase the number of goods exported from Ethiopia to the region, such as to Kenya and the Sudan. So we need COMESA to lead the implementation of the planned expansion in trade between COMESA countries.”