Daniele Giovannucci, Senior Consultant, Agribusiness & Markets Thematic Group, The World Bank
Abstract: although trade promotion organizations (TPOs) can be a cost-effective tool for developing trade and exports, their usefulness varies significantly from country to country. The author reviews the principles of establishing and structuring successful TPOs, clarifies their roles and defines their specific functions. This teaching tool is indebted, in part, to Camilo Jaramillo's (UNCTAD) work on this topic.
Because the majority of producers and potential exporters in many developing countries have limited resources and scant knowledge of foreign markets and their exigencies, they often need support and guidance as they take their first steps into the arena of world trade. Trade Promotion Organizations (TPOs) can be an excellent tool for developing international trade and helping producers and exporters access new markets. Even experienced exporters can benefit from the experience, contacts, and promotional efforts of professional TPOs. However, a 1992 World Bank study showed that many of the TPOs in developing countries failed to meet their objectives. 1 This, and other more recent experience, offer a number of useful guidelines to improve their performance.
When professionally designed and managed they can not only stimulate trade but also prevent disastrous losses resulting from miscalculations and strategic errors on the part of producers and exporters. National TPOs can also conjointly improve the international standing, credibility and image of a country as it promotes and publicizes its products and services.
Although there are many types of export promotion activities, some of which involve more direct involvement and even partnership with individual enterprises, the TPOs referred to in this paper are facilitative agencies whose sole function is to promote and stimulate trade primarily by providing information, linkages, technical advice, marketing and policy advocacy. Export promotion and development activities can be grouped in four broad categories. 2
product and market identification and development,
trade information services,
specialized support services
promotional activities abroad
TPOs are varied. They can range from a one-person office to powerful organizations with extensive networks and offices in various countries. They are typically flexible and can take different forms and have different roles or mandates. Nevertheless, successful TPOs have a number of things in common and these will be discussed in this teaching tool.
II. Key Principles
Most experts interviewed believe that developing country TPOs can be, and sometimes are, effective both in providing marketing assistance and in pressing for needed policy improvements, particularly when (or if) they can achieve four crucial conditions. 3
They enjoy the support of the business community
Are adequately funded
Are staffed with qualified people who are paid commercially competitive salaries
Are somewhat independent of government.
A TPO must first and foremost be market-driven. Its mandates and focus must clearly reflect the requirements of private enterprises and it must be structured and staffed so as to be flexible enough to adjust to changing demands and situations. In effect, it must mirror the operational style of a successful private enterprise.
Formation of a TPO should result from public-private consultations that convene all relevant stakeholders including leaders in the business community, successful exporters, marketing professionals and high-level government representatives. Such a committee can be greatly improved by the inclusion of international trade promotion experts (see list in Resources, section V).
The committee should take decisions concerning:
- the TPOs goals
- its priority functions
- its structure and staffing
- its budget and funding
- its institutional setting
- its independence and supervision
The TPO, in conjunction with the founding committee should clearly define who it serves and how the delivers its services. These criteria must be written and disseminated among the stakeholders to promote transparency and equity and to reduce favoritism. There are many operational decisions that must be taken early in the process. Among these are:
- will the TPO serve anyone or only those from a targeted sector?
- will it be geared toward organizations or individuals or both?
- will there be criteria for enterprise size or volume?
- will it handle "walk-ins" or work with pre-screened clients by appointment only?
- will there be limitations to its work with any one particular client or sub-sector?
TPOs are more market oriented and more effective when they are developed as a result of a broad consensus between the public sector and private sector trade associations, producers and exporters. The most successful TPOs are independent of government influence. Its institutional setting should reflect this value. It need not be wholly independent and can be under the umbrella of government to facilitate both its oversight and supervision and the frequent interactions it will likely have with both domestic and foreign governments. A 1990 World Bank study of 23 lending operations that involve TPOs suggests that changes in political administration and significant leadership turnover are significant factors in diminishing their effectiveness. A semi autonomous government agency managed by a predominantly private sector board can be a good choice. Care should be taken to see that it is openly positioned to avoid corruption and undue political influence.
A TPO must, without exception, be staffed and managed by entrepreneurial, market-oriented individuals and not government bureaucrats. In this field where experience is a critical factor it would be advantageous to invest in remunerative and incentive systems that promote staff longevity. The staff should be experienced in:
- international trade
- the use of statistical and analytical tools
- forecasting methods
- public relations
- the languages of their target markets
- the sectors which they are promoting
- the countries they are targeting
TPOs are good candidates to be self-funding, at least to some extent. Typically funding comes from direct payment for services rendered. But funding can also be drawn from the sectors which benefit directly from the increased trade through checkoff programs or product-specific taxes.
Beyond its general mandate to facilitate and improve trade the TPO is often in the best position to also provide specific and high-value services to its clients. These can include:
- market studies
- exploratory foreign study trips
- customized trade and investment related studies
- access to telecom services such as Internet, Web sites, e-mail, and video or teleconferencing
- representation abroad
- participation in trade shows and exhibitions
Early in the process, a good baseline study is critical for determining the products, sectors, and markets with the most potential. A common fault of ineffective TPOs is trying to serve too many masters. It is better to strictly define the focus and then work for small successes until experience is gained. Building on these successes, a flexible TPO will soon be able to expand its work and still remain effective. Failures early on are very costly and the resulting loss of credibility could cripple the organization. Walk before running.
The TPO ought to regard its function more as that of a facilitator and catalyst than that of a doer. Its service focus ought to be on expanding access and linkages to commercial service suppliers domestically and overseas rather than attempting to provide such services itself.
Determining a particular sectoral focus, at least in the beginning, will facilitate and help define the work; the needs of heavy industrial manufacturing companies would be quite different from those of fresh produce exporters or those of technical services providers.
The primary allegiance of a TPO should be to the country as a whole. By promoting individual exporters and export sectors it can in fact contribute to the country's reputation and standing in export markets but it can also damage that reputation. Selecting which sectors and which exporters to promote must be done with caution to ensure that these are indeed capable of (assess their production capability, quality control, management skills, etc.) succeeding in the international marketplace. Even one or two non-performing or disreputable exporters can quickly begin to damage the TPO's and even a country's reputation.
Because the TPO's role allows is to liaison between the business and import/export communities of both its own and other countries, it is ideally placed to advise on and promote necessary trade reform. Its potential in this role should not be underestimated. Competent and experienced TPOs have been known to advocate:
- the elimination or reduction of restrictions on exports i.e. quotas and licensing
- improved access of exporters to imports i.e. duty-free schemes
- the reduction or more transparent application of export taxes and subsidies
- improved access to export credit i.e. pre-and post shipment financing and insurance
- balanced or more favorable exchange rate policies
- improved policy, regulatory, and legal environment for both trade transactions and investment, i.e. domestic or foreign direct investment (FDI)
- more efficient infrastructure that provides the logistical capacity and agility necessary to be competitive
While advocacy should be part of its primary role it should not dilute that role by participating, other than in an advisory capacity, in the development or administration of trade and export related schemes.
Begin with the basics
A TPO ought to be proactive and help to identify both current and future products or services with potential in international markets. Working with trade or industry representatives and the founding committee and utilizing the initial baseline study as a starting point, specialists should visit producers, distributors, and current or potential exporters to evaluate products or services that could most benefit from trade promotion. In the same manner, it is critical to fully assess the nature of the supply chain and its bottlenecks or constraints. Such assessments may require the commissioning of trade facilitation studies or policy and subsectoral assessments if these do not already exist. While trade promotion is often externally oriented it need not necessarily be so. Sometimes significant trade can be opened up by establishing contacts and trade channels within a country's own borders.
Assessments of products and exporters will necessarily involve individual interviews. The information gathered at this stage can be in the form of a survey or questionnaire and will be useful later for developing profiles on enterprises, products, and services. The information gathered will also serve to guide the TPO's work plan as client needs are more clearly defined. The survey should gather information about:
- a clear description of the products or services available, their quality levels, added value features, and price
- an enterprise's current production levels
- current maximum production capability
- realistic short-term (6 to 18 months) production capacity improvements
- reasonable availability of capital, labor, and technology to expand
- serious intent to diversify or approach new markets
- the enterprise's own definition of its major constraints
- quality management procedures (includes food safety when relevant)
- approximate volume and value of domestic sales
- approximate volume and value of export sales, if any
- attempts made to penetrate new markets and results
- links or contacts with other markets
- level of promotion, publicity, and advertising, if any
- the enterprise's own definition of its primary needs in order to improve sales
- the enterprises familiarity with export procedures, quality requirements, and international payment options
- willingness to attend seminars, exploratory trips, trade shows
- willingness to pay for these or other services
Information profiles distilled from surveys and baseline studies should be used to help further clarify and define the work plan and also to develop a database for dissemination to potential foreign buyers. Because of the sensitive nature of such trade information it should be primarily used in aggregate form and particular care should be taken to secure its confidentiality, especially in the domestic market. It is also important to make work plan and budgetary allowances to maintain such information regularly updated (at least annually).
Information on products and services should be grouped by individual enterprise as well as for that category or subsector as a whole to provide a comprehensive overview of the available supply. Subsector or category details should include:
- the quantity or volume currently available
- near-term potential availability
- prevailing price ranges
- applicable grades and standards
- packaging and processing capabilities
- list of producers, processors, distributors, and exporters
The distribution of individual enterprise profiles, with the initial, one-time permission of the enterprise, should be limited to foreign buyers. If the TPO does not serve as the liaison, this information will provide potential buyers with the precise details necessary to select and contact the exporting enterprises. The individual profiles cover much the same information as the subsector profiles listed above.
After identifying the target markets that demonstrate the most potential, a general set of profiles ought to be developed. These help to stimulate ideas and possibilities among producers and potential exporters and can serve to educate and inform them about the characteristics and conditions of those target markets that have the highest potential for their export products. These profiles can inform and influence the TPO's foreign promotional efforts and should, like all trade information, be updated periodically.
Market profiles typically include:
- the general background of the target market (culture, outlook, income levels, marketing conditions)
- the types of imports favored
- importing patterns, taking into account main trading partners, ten-year trends, and annual seasonality
- available distribution channels
- historical price data
- customs requirements and other import regulations
- import tariffs,
- relevant trade agreements
- useful contacts (diplomatic missions, trade bodies, chambers of commerce, etc.).
Since many novice exporters are not qualified or experienced to interpret and make use of this information, the TPO can provide a useful service by offering light analysis in the form of suggestions, pointing out specific opportunities, and identifying potential liaisons. Support and information for this can come from published market data, private trade and market studies, other trade promotion organizations, trade associations, chambers of commerce, diplomatic trade missions, foreign governments, and development and aid organizations.
TPOs can conduct market studies that are considerably more detailed than market profiles. These provide in-depth information about a particular sector or subsector and its characteristics. While such studies cover the macro information available in market profiles their focus tends to be on identifying and defining the characteristics of a select market channel. This includes:
- identifying market participants
- determining constraints or barriers to entry such as import and legal requirements
- providing specific tariffs schedules
- determining the distribution system to be used
- offering details of typical shipping and payment methods
- detailing costs and options for shipping
- identifying the characteristics of the products and their packaging
- discovering current import statistics for a product including countries of origin, pricing and trends
- determining potential market volumes and predicted saturation points
- providing a sales forecast
- suggesting a pricing strategy
- suggesting the kind of promotion to be done
- explaining cultural or seasonal factors
- providing catalogs and copies of advertisements from competing or related producers, wholesalers, distributors, and retailers
- listing specific contact information for potential trade partners (importers, distributors, wholesalers, etc.)
- identifying trade newsletters and journals
- providing a compilation of similar or related market studies
- obtaining product and packaging samples
Given the costs involved these ought to be conducted in response to specific export opportunities and ideally supported by (financially or in terms of study assistance) interested exporters or trade associations. Such studies, especially for less open countries, can be coordinated with diplomatic trade missions but ought to be conducted by experienced, market-oriented professionals familiar with the target market.
Specific product or service assessments
Assessments can help to concentrate promotional efforts on a particular product or service when driven by clear market opportunities or the request of an exporter. The specificity of such studies requires that they be designed in close cooperation with the exporter or trade association. Such assessments use market studies as a point of departure and are not only more specifically focused, they also tend to develop interactions with specific market actors. From such interactions, importers and exporters can take over from the TPO to develop their own relationships or partnerships. Through these working links they can then continue to develop appropriate products or services designed to fit market needs. This can include sourcing of other or different raw materials, developing new packaging sizes and designs, and improving or altering product characteristics.
The nature of market studies and assessments i.e. techniques and in-depth on-site research, usually means that they are best conducted by professional marketing firms especially given that many TPOs lack the depth of staff and specific country or sector experience of a dedicated market researcher/analyst.
Both market studies and specific product assessments should include a follow-up or evaluation component to determine their effectiveness. Such evaluation should, at a minimum include interviews with relevant exporters to determine what impact such studies or assessments have had on their plans for export or export quantities.
Because of their marketing focus TPOs can be particularly well-suited to assist individual enterprises in designing, developing, and implementing their international marketing plans. For many TPOs this service can be linked to the more general publicity and promotion that they develop and conduct for a country or sector as a whole. Indeed, sometimes enterprise participation can help to defray the TPO's marketing expenses or enable marketing efforts to have a broader scope and reach. Argentina's export promotion council joined with its meat trade association to leverage the notable reputation of Argentine beef as a springboard to its other international export promotion thereby reducing expenses and increasing the exposure and credibility of both partners. Caution should be exercised when selecting marketing or promotional partners to ensure that the TPO's reputation is not compromised and that the opportunity is also transparently available to other qualified enterprises.
Today trade information is more widely available than ever to the average business user. Sources include the Internet, chambers of commerce, trade associations, and specialized international organizations such as the ITC, ECLAC, COLEACP and UNCTAD. But while access to information has greatly improved in the last decade it is still difficult to retrieve information in a useful format and to interpret it accurately. As a consequence, exporters cannot benefit from the information. This is particularly true in developing countries where even the raw data may be difficult to access.
TPO's can help provide a one-stop shop for trade information and can serve the valuable function of helping associations or exporters to interpret the vast amounts of data available. One tool that yields digested trade information is called TradeCAN and was developed by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in cooperation with The World Bank. This database can help determine the volume and competitive status of approximately 768 subgroups of commodities at different levels of aggregation. It not only allows the user to obtain information in a pre-specified format it also performs specific data analyses. It can for example analyze the market structure and dynamism of a particular product's imports into a variety of countries and the increasing or declining market shares of those individual countries.
As always, the key guideline for such services is that they be market driven and regularly evaluated for their effectiveness in both accessing useful and timely information as well as interpreting and disseminating it efficiently. Several of the organizations mentioned above have developed formats and procedures for creating and managing trade information services. Their web sites, publications and advisory services should be part of the initial planning process for any TPO. | see Resources Section |
A TPO, in the course of its work, will quickly discover that in order to best help its clients to increase trade and access foreign markets it will also need to help them develop the necessary skills to take full advantage of the new and more complex opportunities that such markets present. Such skills can include:
- knowledge about trade payment methods
- access to financing and foreign direct investment
- export procedures
- commercial terms and terms of international trade
- transportation logistics and procedures
- quality control methods
- export packaging
- pricing strategy
- handling business expansion requirements, i.e. infrastructure, management, bookkeeping, etc.
- contract negotiations
Because such skills among its clients are inextricably linked to a TPO's ultimate success, it may seem natural for it to help provide such skills. World Bank surveys in 18 countries suggest that caution should be exercised when contemplating the provision of such skills. 4 Doing so risks diluting the TPO's primary function and can even slow the development of such services in the private sector. A TPO can be most effective by working closely with other organizations such as business development centers, trade associations, export councils, and business schools to deliver the services. When these are not available or inadequate a TPO can provide workshops, lectures, mentoring, and literature as a stopgap measure and help support and develop the provision of such services through a specialized organization or institution, preferably in the private sector.
There are some services that may be more difficult to access and these ought to be available through a TPO:
- Procedural guidelines and manuals on the regulations and procedures for specific foreign markets
- contact information for Customs offices, sanitary and phytosanitary control departments, permit officers, etc.
- at least one staffer that is thoroughly familiar with export procedures and one that is knowledgeable about export financing and methods payment who can handle questions and requests from exporters
- updated information on transport logistics, pricing, and availability as well as diverse linkages with reliable freight forwarders, information regarding appropriate price tiers, cost structures and pricing strategies
- referral to knowledgeable legal advice
- information about insurance, especially export credit insurance
Export promotion funds
A number of organizations utilize funds to stimulate and support exporters to enter foreign markets. PROCHILE utilizes a US $10 million fund for matching grants that are targeted to groups and associations who want to develop new markets or promote nontraditional exports. This instrument has evolved to include a competitive application process to improve the quality of proposals.
Many organizations that incorporate a funding tool disburse money in the form of matching grants with the cofinancing averaging approximately 50 percent but in some cases going significantly higher. The evaluation criteria for funds is similar to the criteria used to select potential exporters and promotional partners but requires a somewhat more thorough and rigorous evaluation. Managing such a fund naturally adds to the responsibilities of a TPO and should therefore be well considered if resources and staffing are very limited. One option is to work closely or partner with other organizations or institutions that already provide such funds i.e. agribusiness development centers and matching grant schemes. | see also Developing Enterprise through Direct Assistance, Annex 1 Grant Criteria Form |
Ultimately, the TPO's success is measured by the success of its 'clients' and consistent quality management is essential for an exporter to be successful. Ideally, at least one TPO staffer should be trained in quality management objectives and methodologies such as HACCP and familiar with the guidelines and requirements of international standards organizations such as ISO, Codex Alimentarius, and the WTO.
The office should have available current reference materials on product quality and be able to offer guidance on resources (written, electronic, and human) for quality management procedures. It should have a relationship with the national standards bodies and relevant quality control agencies and help facilitate their role among the export community. It should also be able to address, at least in general terms, the specific quality requirements in target markets particularly those that involve inspection or certification procedures.
The TPO can also serve a valuable role by systematically monitoring, through its communications network and through a formal complaint system, any claims concerning export quality. In this manner it can help target specific areas in which training or assistance should be focused and identify repeat offenders.
Foreign trade promotion linkages and activities are critical to the TPO's success. Such activities can be costly and time-consuming and should therefore be embarked upon selectively. Wherever possible the TPO should establish close ties with the relevant diplomatic or commercial services that may exist. Where there is no trade mission, attempts should be made to foster at least one or two individuals in the target country or actually within the foreign diplomatic mission who have a commercial background or interest to help identify opportunities, nurture potential contacts, and facilitate commercial interactions with the home country.
Several factors will determine the nature and extent of activities overseas: budgetary and staff resources; the range of products and services available for export; and the specific export development targets that mandate the TPO's range of operation. In most cases at least two types of activities are commonly undertaken: participation in trade shows or exhibitions and organization of exploratory visits.
Trade shows and exhibitions
Based on a study of potential markets and the relevance of particular trade shows, the TPO ought to establish a regular and systematic attendance at key shows. Although some TPO's have their own booths or stands at trade shows or exhibitions in addition to those of its cadre of exporters, exhibitions by the TPO staff are rarely as effective as the live presence of the exporters themselves.
Because of the time-consuming logistical arrangements of participation in such shows it is preferable to assign a staffer specifically to coordinate:
- rental of space
- booth construction
- rental of fixtures
- hotel and travel arrangements
- transportation of materials and samples
Whereas the strategic and promotional components of participation may often require a person with different skills to:
- select the fair;
- select and coordinate the exhibiting exporters;
- design booth presentations and promotional materials;
- develop and disseminate publicity to potential clients.
It is critical for future success to evaluate the benefits of such shows for every exporter individually. The TPO should monitor the extent to which exporters follow-up on leads generated at the shows and also track simple indicators such as new clients, number of orders received, and quantities sold. This will help to determine the usefulness of the fair and also whether poorly performing exporters ought to be included in the future.
Exploratory visits also provide firsthand contact like trade shows but do so in a less artificial setting: that of the workplace, processing plant, or field. They can involve exporters visiting potential buyers and markets or having potential buyers visit the producers or exporters. When well-managed, both offer distinct educational and commercial opportunities. These trips, especially when exporters visit new countries, often tend to have a holiday component and to prevent this from becoming the primary rationale for the trip it is always worthwhile to have the participants pay for most, if not all of their expenses. Expenses can also be minimized by combining such trips with trade shows.
The likelihood of success is significantly improved when such missions are scrupulously planned well in advance and with the participation of all the stakeholders. In some cases where participants wish to acquire know-how or new technology, longer-term study visits should be arranged. A number of countries offer assistance to arrange such visits with their universities, trade associations, farmers, input suppliers, and equipment manufacturers.
Both mission leaders and participants ought to fill out standard reports at the end of each such trip and again approximately six months after returning. If partial expenses are covered by the TPO, these can be withheld pending receipt of such reports. This helps to ensure that such missions are effective and the necessary follow-ups are conducted.
IV. Best Practice and Examples
The original mission of Argentina's national non-traditional export promotion organization (PROMEX) was focused and achievable: to help small businesses participate in export trade and to diversify the variety of non-traditional exports. 5 In 1989 it conducted 10 trade missions and was involved in 15 export markets. As its abilities developed, its mandate expanded to include all food products and its capacities now include expanded technical and research services. By 1998 it was conducting 20 trade missions, participating in 51 trade fairs, and operating in 24 markets.
Although initially designed to work with individual SMEs, the organization has shifted to include associations and producer groups and is encouraging small producers to first participate in domestic trade as a way of building capacity.
Unfortunately, cost recovery has been more symbolic than meaningful -- at approximately three percent of total operating costs -- and it continues to be dependent on external funding although it is seeking to expand its funding through a government tax on exports. Nevertheless, it has leveraged benefits through participation in some creative promotions such as that with PROCAR, the Argentine meat marketing association, which joined forces with PROMEX in order to jointly promote overseas trade. They were able to capitalize on the strong image of Argentine beef and use it as a centerpiece for diverse promotions that benefited both organizations.
From its inception PROMEX combined public and private sector participation in its planning and executive committee and even involved the regional provinces to help publicize programs for potential exporters. The project included an export promotion fund with straightforward criteria for delivering assistance clearly written into its regulations. The criteria were designed to both help ensure success and maximize the public benefit; these included: number of people that would directly benefit; organizational capacity to properly manage exports; and technical capacity to participate at the necessary levels of quality.
Despite an internal assessment claiming that human resources were not adequately valued in the form of compensation and incentives, PROMEX has been able to build a strong institutional image in the international marketplace. It is now seeking to improve the delivery of export related services through further linkages with technical and capacity building organizations such as the National Institute for Agricultural Technology.
Institutions and organizations
The World Directory of Trade Promotion Organizations and Other Foreign Trade Bodies can be ordered from:
- Trade Information and Market News Service Section
- Division of Product and Market Development, International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO
International Trade Center (UNCTAD/WTO),
- Trade Point Program of UNCTAD, Switzerland
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
- The Trade Information Center, Office of Export Promotion Coordination
- International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce
- International Chamber of Commerce; Paris, France.
- Business Information Service for the Newly Independent States (USDOC)
- Central & Eastern Europe Business Information Center (USDOC)
- Foreign Agriculture Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- Technological Information Promotion System (TIPS)
- U.S. Agency for International Development Information Center
- World Customs Organization Compliance and Facilitation
- U.S. Global Technology Network (USAID)
- Cámara Argentina de Comercio Departamento de Comercio Exterio
- Australian Trade Commission
- Fundación Bolinvest-Programa d Promoción de Inversiones
- Trade Facilitation Office of Canada, OTTAWA
- Comisión Económica para America Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL)
- Dirección de Promoción de Exportaciones (PROCHILE)
- 'Shanghai Trade Point'
- China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT)
- Centro Dominicano de Promoción de Exportaciones (CEDOPEX)
- 'Egyptian Internat. Trade Point' (EITP)
- PROTRADE - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische
- Hong Kong Trade Development Council
- Centre marocain de promotion des exportations (CMPE)
- CBI - Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing
- New Zealand Trade Development Board (TRADENZ)
- Philippines Bureau of Export Trade Promotion Trade Information Center
- Uganda Export Promotion Board Information Section, KAMPALA
- Zimbabwe ZimTrade 'Trade Point Harare'
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