TPO Network Conference & Awards - Building Export Success in a Changing Global Environment

11 July 2011
ITC News

The 8th TPO Network Conference and Awards, held in Mexico City on 13–15 October 2010, highlighted the need for trade promotion organizations (TPOs) and the businesses they support to adapt to the impact of the global economic crisis.

The biennial event brought together more than 150 participants from 50 countries to address the theme, ‘Building Export Success – Enhancing TPO Impact in a Changing Global Environment’. Key issues covered included the design of effective trade promotion and support services, strategies to further develop competitiveness and increase exports and, crucially, methodologies and mechanisms to record and report on impact. The two days of intensive discussion and debate also provided a forum for delegates to exchange experiences, knowledge and best practices, with a focus on practical solutions to stimulate export-led economic growth.

In her opening address, the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), Patricia Francis, reminded delegates that the world has changed dramatically as a result of the crisis. Citing the rising importance of emerging markets, the shift towards South–South trade and the need for global governance and sustainable behaviour, Ms Francis highlighted that it is no longer a case of ‘business as usual’.

In the wake of dramatic changes to domestic environments and increasing international competition, many companies are being forced to go global due to the competition from foreign companies at home. Consequently, TPOs are faced with a constant challenge: to evolve their service offering to meet the demands of the export businesses they support.

In his keynote address, the Secretary of Economy, Bruno Ferrari, called for a strengthening of economic links to benefit from economies of scale and contribute to the consolidation of worldwide economic recovery. ‘It is important to look into how [TPOs] have responded by developing alternative strategies in trade and investment promotion,’ he said.

‘There is cautious optimism, particularly in the developing world,’ said Ms Francis. ‘Many businesses, particularly SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], have failed as some traditional markets have collapsed. There is confusion about how to get back in the game, how to regain lost ground and how to potentially grow.’

The global economic recession is still affecting many countries and has added new or increased demands on most TPOs, challenging their service offerings and their budgets.

However, amidst this volatility there is both opportunity and dynamism. Signs of regeneration are appearing and sometimes in unlikely places. At the same time, specialization increases the relevance of regional strategies in trade and investment. The capacity of countries to act collectively in addressing the challenges of international trade is a driver of companies’ competitiveness.

Moving Towards a Client-Centred Approach

TPOs around the world are taking a long-term perspective and are becoming more flexible and dynamic in order to deliver on the needs of their customers. A client-centric approach is emerging, driven by:

  • A client base that is export ready, rather than concentrating on SMEs in general;
  • A clear focus on market development;
  • A streamlined approach by cooperating with other institutions to achieve economies of scale; and
  • A primary focus on sectors rather than markets and, within sectors, on helping companies move forward.

With a responsibility to regenerate SMEs, there is an increasing need for TPOs to focus on better positioning companies within global supply and production chains through capacity building and export development services.

While technology can help to accelerate growth in this new environment, businesses need to strive for value rather than volume in order to survive, supported by access to reliable information and advice.

‘Despite progress in communications technologies, lack of information severely handicaps companies seeking to operate in international markets and is a serious barrier to exports,’ said Christian Volpe, Senior Economist with the Inter-American Development Bank’s Integration and Trade Sector.

To meet the market challenges and to achieve economies of scale, there is also a move towards intra-sector regional cooperation. A session at the conference dedicated to strengthening regional and global networks resulted in TPOs giving ITC a mandate to establish a working group to strengthen the TPO Network.

The next World Conference and Awards will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2012.

Visit www.tponetwork.net/2010conferencecontent.php to download session summaries and presentations from the conference.