Trade and investment promotion: At the crossroads of digital disruption

27 Apr 2017 02:00h

Event report

This session focused on the impact e-commerce and business internationalisation have on export promotion.

Mr Martin Labbé, Senior Officer and Institutional Development at the International Trade Centre, gave the opening remarks and moderated the session. He highlighted the essential contribution of Trade and Investment Promotion Organisations (TIPOs) in enhancing e-commerce and export promotion.

In particular, he invited the four speakers to address the opportunities and challenges that e-commerce poses for TIPOs.

Ms Siv Ahlberg, Programme Director at Finnpartnership, opened the discussion. She began by illustrating the main role of the Finnish Business Partnership Programme, which is providing aid and advisory services to organisations interested in launching business operations in developing countries. She explained that Finnpartnership is a ‘match-making’ organisation, connecting business to business (B-to-B) and business to customer (B-to-C). Moreover, she specified that all the companies working with Finnpartnership are subjected to a monitoring mechanism both before and after they join the organisation.

Finally, she considered the existing challenges that e-commerce poses to TIPOs. In Finland, customer protection laws are very strong. This can constitute a problem in terms of the customer’s trust towards a given company: if a company makes a mistake in terms of visibility, it will be difficult to restore its reputation.

Ms Indira Malwatte, Chairperson and Chief Executive at the Sri Lanka Export Development Board (SLDB), continued the discussion, illustrating the SLDB’c approach towards e-commerce and TIPOs. She explained that the SLDB offers companies a platform to advertise their products and initiatives. Before having access to such a portal, companies undergo a strict credibility check during which a representative from the SLDB visits the facility and redacts a report.

At the same time, she described the limits of the current SLDB platform. In Sri Lanka, digital signature has not yet been recognised as valid,  it is thus not possible to pay through electronic platforms. Consequently, this creates an unfriendly environment for e-commerce.

Mr Sebastian Tamás, Director of Innovations at the Hungarian National Trading House, explained the different approach they have towards e-commerce compared to that of SLDB. The Hungarian National Trading House follows a ‘start-up Darwinism’ approach: they help companies with a more versatile profile – companies with higher potential – to adapt to the rapid changes of the market. The key aspect is automation: although availability of data can represent a hurdle, there is big attention being paid to the collection and analysis of information. This includes not only a background check of companies, but also a follow-up control mechanism that follows companies’ successful activity through time.

In particular, he specified that the collection of information is done through an algorithm that considers companies’ digital footprint, as for example the analysis of their engagement on social media platforms.

Mr James Zhan, Director of Investment and Enterprise at UNCTAD, concluded the discussion with his speech. As opposed to the previous speakers who talked about trade promotion, he addressed investment promotion and its risks in particular. In this sense, the challenge lies in linking investment promotion with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the digital era. He considered that SDGs are also encompassing many digital targets (such as the access to Internet for all), with possible positive effects on investment and trade. The ultimate objective is to enhance digital economic development, but at the same time, rapid changes of the international landscape make it difficult for companies to pursue a long-term coherent strategy.