WEDF 2015 – Opening Statement by the Executive Director of The International Trade Centre

20 October 2015
ITC News
Opening Statement by the Executive Director of The International Trade Centre Arancha González at the World Export Development Forum
20th October 2015 - Doha, Qatar

Your Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar
Your Excellency Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassim Al Thani , Minister of Economy and Commerce
Your Excellency Ali Sharif Al Emadi, Minister of Finance
Your Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Bin Saud Al Thani, Qatar Central Bank Governor, and Chairman of Qatar Development Bank
Mr. Abdulaziz Bin Nasser Al-Khalifa, CEO of the Qatar Development Bank

Assalam Aleikum.

Whether you’ve come to this dynamic city of Doha from far away or from somewhere closer by, I want to welcome you to this year's World Export Development Forum.

I would like to extend the gratitude of the International Trade Centre to the government and people of the State of Qatar and in particular to the Ministry of Finance and the Qatar Development Bank for partnering with us to deliver this fifteenth edition of WEDF – the first ever in the Middle East.

This gathering takes place just three weeks after the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aimed at promoting sustainable, inclusive growth that leaves no one behind.

This gathering takes place two months before the Paris Climate Change Conference and before the World Trade Organisation meets in Nairobi to provide an impetus to multilateral trade opening.

Doha is very closely associated to the history of the WTO. It was here that the Doha Round was launched and here where China became a member of the WTO in 2001.

The message we send from Doha today is clear: more open trade and investment and more competitive small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can help us generate sustainable and inclusive growth and reach the UN Global Goals.

Sustainable, because growth needs to be compatible with our planet; and inclusive because growth must work for all, including for youth and women. This must be growth anchored in small and medium enterprises, which represent 90% of all businesses worldwide and which account for seven of every ten jobs.

Supporting SMEs to internationalise - today’s word for trade and investment, connecting to markets and tapping into value chains – is key to foster more dynamic and innovative economies and ensure growth is sustained and sustainable.

This is why the theme of this year's WEDF is ‘Innovate, Invest, Internationalise’. And this is why it is most opportune that we are in Qatar, which is an example of an open economy betting on these three "I"s for its future.

WEDF to talk business and do business

We come to the World Export Development Forum because we want to "talk business and do business". ITC started the Forum to provide space for policymakers, trade and investment support institutions, and business leaders to share experiences, understand each other’s needs, and learn what more each could do, in practical terms, to boost trade competitiveness.

Over the years we have also added an important B2B component for companies to network with potential partners. I am delighted to report that this year more than half of participants at WEDF come from the private sector – the highest ever. We look forward to hearing about the deals and long-term connections you forge here in Doha. We need your views on how to make the trade and investment environment more conducive to doing business internationally.

Compete, connect, and change

Just last week the ITC published the first edition of what will become an annual flagship report - the SME Competitiveness Outlook. Our aim is to provide the trade and investment family with a practical tool to help improve the competitiveness of SMEs.

The challenges faced by SMEs vary. Access to finance might dry up the moment businesses become too big for micro-lenders. Expensive transportation and long customs delays can frustrate attempts to operate across borders.
Firms themselves might struggle to understand market opportunities. Or they might lack the institutional support structure to meet international health and safety standards.

But we cannot efficiently target action unless we understand which constraints are most relevant in a given country. The SME Competitiveness Outlook equips us to do just this. It analyses key determinants of SME competitiveness to identify weaknesses at the level of companies, the immediate business environment, or national policy. These key determinants come in three broad pillars: the ability of SME's to compete, to connect and to change.

SMEs’ ability to ‘compete’ – that is, to supply quality goods in a timely and cost-effective manner – does not depend only on firms’ own talents. It depends on access to a functional product quality certification system, and on macro-level considerations like swift customs procedures and an open trading environment.

Similarly, SMEs’ capacity to ‘connect’ – the way they absorb and exploit information to better understand and target customers – is not just a function of their ability to use e-mail and the internet. It relies on the strength of local business clusters and associations, and on nationwide internet penetration and quality.

Finally, SMEs’ ability to ‘change’ – to constantly adapt to shifting market forces – depends to a great extent on the education level of the workforce, or access to credit in the economy, not just the internal dynamism of a given company.

A more accurate slogan for this gathering could be “compete, connect, and change to support SMEs to innovate, invest, and internationalise.”

ITC work on the ground: helping SMEs connect to value chains

Practical research is only one part of ITC’s work. We are directly involved on the ground, working to enable SMEs to seize the opportunities presented by value chains, which make it possible to connect to world markets by producing components or processing imported intermediates and not necessarily final goods. But to do this companies need the swift and predictable border procedures critical to efficient logistics. This is why ITC is working with countries and business to help them implement the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

To connect to value chains, SMEs also need to meet demanding product quality standards. ITC works to help them do so. Tomorrow we will be launching a useful publication on the Halal standards. This is a growing and lucrative market and understanding the standards around this sector is essential to facilitating SME participation.

Our broader work on non-tariff measures and non-tariff barriers – a 21st century trade obstacle – helps SMEs and policymakers navigate this new trade landscape.

Our work on e-commerce seeks to help SMEs tap the full potential of virtual marketplaces to enhance connectivity with customers and buyers and increase international sales.

And when we think about value chains, let us not forget about services. Think about SMEs supplying online banking, music, or art to the local outpost of an international hotel chain – that’s connecting to a services value chain! Services are key to the economies in the region, including in Qatar.

Qatar’s National Vision 2030 sets out a clear path for economic transformation, based on human capital development, economic diversification, and environmental sustainability. At ITC, we stand ready to help Qatar in this generational quest. Earlier this month, we signed an agreement with the Qatar Development Bank, an institution we admire and respect, pledging to work together to help tap into the potential of Qatar SMEs. ITC is proud to be your partner of choice.

Let me in closing wish you a fruitful WEDF, one that generates ideas and suggestions that we will build on for next year's edition.

Thank you for your attention.