TPO Network: World conference and awards

14 January 2013
ITC News
The 2012 Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) Network World Conference and Awards brought together more than 200 participants from 65 countries to address the topic of how to transform TPO business through innovation.

The conference, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, followed ITC’s World Export Development Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia, where participants recognized the increasing importance of South-South trade and the need for emerging economies to diversify their exports towards other emerging economies.

Participants at the ninth TPO Network World Conference and Awards met during a period of sluggish global growth, economic uncertainty and shifting trade patterns. In these challenging times, the role of TPOs is increasingly important as they seek innovative ways to develop and promote export-oriented trade. Key issues covered during the two-day conference included benchmarking, assessment and performance improvement of TPOs, measuring TPO impact on employment generation, reacting to and preparing for sudden change, developing green industry, tapping into niche markets and finding innovative ways to promote exports.

ITC Executive Director Patricia Francis told participants: 'Innovation is not only an opportunity, it is a necessity. Fiscal tightening by governments has put pressure on you to provide more for less. To meet this challenge requires a paradigm shift not only in the services you offer, but also in the way these services are delivered.’ Francis pointed to some impressive examples of innovation among TPOs, such as the initiatives of this year’s award winners, and said: ‘ITC, like national TPOs, sees an opportunity in innovation. We understand you need new services to meet the needs of today and tomorrow. In partnership with TPOs, ITC’s key constituency, we continue to introduce new products and services for our partners.’

Challenges to boosting export-led growth

During the conference, participants discussed practical solutions to boost export-led growth and identified challenges:

  • The business challenge: boosting exports at a time of sluggish growth in traditional export markets;
  • The fiscal challenge: delivering more for less in tight economic times;
  • The impact challenge: demonstrating that the work of TPOs and the exports they promote create jobs and increase living standards.

ITC Deputy Executive Director Jean-Marie Paugam said: ‘To confront these challenges and reiterate our legitimacy with policymakers as cost-effective providers of services that benefit society at large, TPOs need to be perceived by customers and stakeholders as effective and efficient in delivering results.’ Paugam outlined concrete takeaways from the conference, including assessing impact, operational improvement, partnership and solidarity. In terms of assessing impact, different approaches include the macroeconomic route, bottom-up evaluation and return on investment. He said: ‘Because data is difficult to gather and linkages between impact and the role of TPOs are difficult to establish, it is important to intensify work on impact assessment.’

TPOs need to adapt if they are to improve their operations, which involves delivering innovative services, benchmarking, reacting to sudden change and recognizing excellence, for example through the TPO Network Awards.

Working together – partnership and solidarity

Partnership and solidarity among TPOs is paramount. UBIFRANCE, the French trade commission, and ITC are promoting a sponsorship scheme whereby TPOs in developed countries contribute to a fund to enable TPOs in developing countries to have free access to ITC’s market analysis tools. The so-called TPO Support Partnership Fund will be launched by the end of 2012.

Wong Lai Sum, Chief Executive Director of MATRADE, the Malaysian TPO that hosted this year’s conference, emphasized the importance of following up, following through and implementing the ideas, solutions and good practices shared at the conference. ‘Everyone needs to work together as one big trading and exporting community to ensure that they continue to grow trade and contribute to the economic development of their economies,’ she said.

The tenth TPO Network World Conference and Awards will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2014.

Award winners: Uganda, Jamaica, Mexico and Austria

Winners of the 2012 TPO Network Awards were announced at a presentation ceremony at the ninth TPO Network World Conference organized jointly by ITC and the Malaysian External Trade Development organization (MATRADE).

The Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), ProMéxico Trade and Investment and Advantage Austria were recognized by their peers for excellence in trade export development. The winners demonstrated outstanding performance in the use of innovative and effective systems and procedures in their export development initiatives. Awards were given in four categories: least developed country, small island developing State, developing country and developed country.

ITC Executive Director Patricia Francis said: ‘The awards are confirmation of performance to deliver export development initiatives with concrete outcomes and impact on export development.’ She added: ‘The success of TPOs is measured by the success of the companies they assist.’

A catalyst for change and improvement

The awards work as a change agent as the application process often requires TPOs to review their processes. For example, 2010 winner Apex-Brasil conducted a full review and renewal of its strategy, service portfolio and performance measurement system following its win. Award winner UK Trade and Invest noted that staff morale was boosted and the award galvanized staff to do better. The chief executive officer of Enterprise Mauritius set a target to continue living up to the standards of the award.

Winners in 2012 agreed that an award is a true boost to their organizations and they plan to use the distinction in their marketing plans to inspire staff and clients to strive for excellence. Applying for the awards can help TPOs recognize areas for self-improvement and many have lauded the process itself, regardless of the outcome. Typically, winning or applying is a catalyst to improve practices and can spark creative organizational change.

Special Mention Award

Swiss Trade and Invest (OSEC), Switzerland, won the panel’s Special Mention Award for its Pool of Experts initiative. This initiative has sustainably and efficiently optimized OSEC's business model for offering effective consulting services.

‘The winners of the 2012 TPO Network Awards have been chosen because of the hard work they have laid down and the results they have achieved in their efforts to serve their exporters in the best possible way. They are innovative, forward looking and have set examples for others to follow,’ said ITC Director of Business and Institutional Development Aïcha Pouye.

The next TPO Network Awards will take place in 2014 and winners will be announced in Dubai during the tenth TPO Network World Conference.

Uganda: Introducing export marketing capabilities

Uganda Export Promotion Board (UEPB), a winner in 2004, partnered with Uganda National Agricultural Advisory Services to boost market-led production and productivity in selected agricultural clusters. UEPB recognized that the agricultural sector can employ disadvantaged men, women and youth along the entire value chain. The initiative focuses on cooperatives and clusters.

UEPB introduced export marketing capabilities into three cooperatives clustered to produce citrus fruit in northern Uganda, pineapples in central Uganda and hot peppers in eastern Uganda. This was achieved by creating a market linkage centre (MLC) in each cooperative that was tailored to link cooperatives and farmer groups to export markets. Through the MLCs, cooperatives coordinate their marketing functions, specifically managing export transactions to increase export sales and revenues. The initiative is expected to link the supported cooperatives with regional markets and includes a target of US$ 500,000 in post-intervention export earnings.

Each cooperative’s export competence and its linkages to markets and key networks have been enhanced as the MLCs and associated training have made farmers more effective in associating within the cooperatives and more confident in their negotiating skills. UEPB’s advice for TPOs is to follow market-led production rather than fall into the trap of haphazard production. Product mapping is critical and it is essential to map out regions that are receptive to imports of products and services.

Second and third place winners in the least developed country category were the Zambia Development Agency and the Benin Agency for Trade Promotion.

Jamaica: A broad engagement strategy

Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) is a three-time winner. In 2012, the TPO was awarded for its programme Export Max: Enterprise Development for Export Growth, which was introduced in 2011. Export Max aims to enhance the competitiveness of existing exporters and export-ready firms, and provides customized capacity building and market penetration support to 15 firms demonstrating the best growth potential. Export Max is expected to yield at least 30% growth in exports among participating firms.

JAMPRO saw the importance of a broad engagement strategy along with an intensive and customized programme of support for a cluster of export-ready firms. Just seven months on, participating firms recorded nearly US$ 1.5 million in export sales and are pursuing over 70 trade leads. Firms are accessing funding and have realized significant cost savings on business support services through partnerships forged by JAMPRO. The organization provides support to Export Max firms in management, product development and quality, market research and penetration, export marketing plans and human resource development. Listening to clients as well as conducting a diagnosis and creating development plans are key to JAMPRO’s ongoing success.

The Dominican Republic Export and Investment Centre was the second place winner in the small island developing State category.

Mexico: Working in partnership

ProMéxico Trade and Investment used the Export Supply Integration Model (INTEX), to boost the competitiveness of small producers of greenhouse tomatoes by using partnership schemes. ProMéxico identified a market opportunity of US$ 250 million annually for greenhouse tomatoes. INTEX focuses on increasing the productivity of producers, enabling them to take advantage of opportunities in the international market. Challenges included fragmentation, lack of state-of-the-art production processes, dependency on intermediaries and price volatility.

To overcome these challenges, INTEX gathered 500 small producers from 13 different states under a unified brand, Tekitoma. Under INTEX, Tekitoma exported US$ 40 million in greenhouse tomatoes in 2011. Productivity improved by 50%, production costs were reduced by 8% and shipments increased by 60%. ProMéxico estimates 5,000 new jobs can be created in rural areas in this sector alone.

This model can work for any agribusiness product and ProMéxico is implementing INTEX for five other agricultural products. An important lesson learned is that domestic importers can work with large corporations if the quality is there and if they work together as recognized and reliable suppliers.

Second and third place winners in the developing country category were the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation and Dubai Exports.

Austria: Exposing compnies to Silicon Valley competition

Advantage Austria’s Go Silicon Valley initiative allows small- and medium-sized Austrian information technology (IT) companies to break into the United States market and access risk capital. Each year, up to 20 Austrian IT companies complete a three-month programme using the Business Accelerator Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, California, to kick-start their businesses. By exposing Austrian companies to the highly competitive Silicon Valley environment, the companies quickly adapt their business plans and become scalable businesses. Constant feedback from peers and the contact network plays a crucial role. Participants learn to express their business plans in a concise manner, which is essential when approaching prospective customers, partners and investors.

Of the 42 Austrian companies that have completed the programme so far, five have set up United States subsidiaries and one has been acquired by an investor. Advantage Austria says the award gives an internal boost to the organization, and its 165 offices are even more motivated to reach out to the IT sector.
Enterprise Lithuania and UBIFRANCE were the second and third place winners in the developed country category.