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Low-income countries benefit from free online trade tools

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Photo: Aleksandar Jovanovic of the Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Valjevo, Serbia, gives a training on trade tools. Read more.

The World Bank has been collaborating with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to give developing countries free access to information about trade flows and competition in export industries.

The project makes a series of databases available for free online, and places an emphasis on facilitating access for users in developing countries – for example, providing a version that works well even with slow internet access. The databases, called Market Access Tools, include trade and investment information for more than 200 countries. They help academics in trade and industry better understand the international market, and help governments and businesses design strategies for exporting goods.

The World Bank’s efforts to make the data it collects and uses more available to the public is benefitting from a recent push. Since 2010, the Bank’s Open Data Initiative has given the public free access to more than 2000 indicators from around the globe. The Bank has also teamed up with Google to make the information more searchable, and recently held a competition to encourage the development of development-focused mobile applications, or apps.

Transparency in Trade (TNT) is a collaborative effort to improve data availability in trade. It is a joint commitment by the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the ITC, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). TNT aims to improve the data collection in non-tariff measures, services and anti-dumping, and to make a number of trade-related datasets available online. It will also help improve the web-based World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS) system, which provides data on bilateral trade between countries, tariffs and non-tariff measures.

Some of the objectives of improving transparency in trade are to help firms be more aware of trade opportunities and governments more aware of barriers to trade. A major focus of the effort has been to gather up-to-date information on non-tariff measures (NTMs), such as quotas and health-related or product-specific restrictions. These measures are less visible than tariffs and have been difficult to track, especially in African countries. As of April 2012, the Transparency in Trade project had helped collect NTM data in about 30 developing countries. The project also is helping governments and think tanks to maintain live, local databases and analyze the impact of NTMs. In addition, the World Bank is publishing a new toolkit to help structure the approach policy makers take when considering new NTMs.

A recent evaluation of ITC’s Market Access Tools(MATs) found that free access is vital to the usefulness of the tools and that user satisfaction is high. Surveys showed that low-income countries benefited more than other countries from the service, and users in low-income countries found the MATs made trade-related data easier to access. The evaluation found that users in government institutions needed the data to prepare negotiations, while academics wanted more training and effective ways to download as much data as possible for their research. (Click here to read about some of the ways businesses, governments and academic institutions are using the tools.) The ITC and the World Bank are continuing to respond to user suggestions to improve the tools’ usefulness in research and market evaluation.

Between 2008 and 2010, the Bank provided $600,000 per year for the ITC to improve its data coverage and web portal and make the MATs information accessible for free. The MATs are hosted by the ITC and geared toward market research. Often used in conjunction with WITS and other databases, they include: Trade Map, which provides indicators on export performance, international demand, alternative markets and the role of competitors; MAc Map, which gives information on a country’s tariff regime; Investment Map, which collects yearly Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) statistics; and Standards Map, which enables analyses and comparisons of private and voluntary standards.


Read examples of how people are using MATs to boost trade. 

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