A strongly client-oriented trade promotion system is needed

Apr 13, 2000

Ha Noi -  After two and a half-day of presentations and discussion, a Symposium on Trade Promotion in Viet Nam concluded here this afternoon. In his closing statement, Vice Minister of Trade Mai Van Dau observed: "the Symposium has fulfilled its objective. Viet Nam does not expect to solve all of its problems in trade promotion overnight. However the discussions and presentations during the Symposium have given us a much clearer understanding of where to go from here."

The Symposium, mainly funded by the Government of Switzerland, is organised jointly by the Trade Promotion Commission (VIETRADE) under Viet Nam's Ministry of Trade, the United Nations Development Programme, and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The Symposium explored four major themes: options for an institutional framework for a trade promotion system in Viet Nam that brings together business enterprises, trade support institutions and central government agencies; Viet Namÿs needs for a strengthened national and sectoral export strategy; human resource development needs for trade promotion; and trade information.

The participants agreed that Viet Nam needs to develop a strongly client-oriented trade promotion system if it is to improve the performance of its enterprises in export markets. In the words of Mr. Greg Dodds, Executive General Manager for North East Asia of the Australiaÿs Export Promotion Agency (AusTrade), "trade promotion is all about helping individual enterprises increase their sales in overseas markets. Trade promotion institutions must focus on what the exporters truly need, not on what you think they need."

To promote exporting enterprises successfully, there is a need for all partners in the trade promotion field to act in unison and support each otherÿs work. As Messrs. Chevalier and Noyelle indicated in their presentation of the findings of the pre-feasibility study of trade promotion in Viet Nam, "Trade promotion is all about organising a network in which each player has a role to play. This network must have at its heart the exporting enterprise which, in turn, must be supported by the relevant government organisations and a variety of trade-support institutions, including business and product organisations. As in any strong network, each player must learn how to focus on what it can do best, specialising its services on the basis of its comparative advantage."

There is a need for the Government to show leadership and facilitate co-ordination among the players in the trade promotion network. Experts from Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Switzerland and the ITC noted that successful trade promotion organisations each have boards on which trade support institutions and the business sectors are strongly represented. A majority of the board members of AusTrade, for example, are business people and the Chairman of the Board is a businessman. Multiple ways of consulting regularly with exporters and product associations is also critical as shown by Malaysia and Thailand that have mechanisms for regular sharing of work plans between their trade promotion organisations and product associations and other trade-support service providers. In Switzerland, export promotion is a private organisation, only basic information is supported by the Government.

The participants also agreed that Viet Nam needs to improve its access to commercial intelligence. It is this information that allows a business person to turn an export potential into a true business transaction: business contacts, information about distribution channels, understanding of the nature of local competition and consumer preferences, etc. "Overseas trade representatives are an important means to provide exporters with access to commercial intelligence," noted Mrs. E. Masamune of Austrade "Viet Nam needs to focus on how to improve that system. Commercial attaches are an expensive investment and you need to improve your return on investment" she said.

The Symposium also noted that there is a huge need for training in trade promotion skills in both enterprises and trade support institutions. As one Vietnamese participant observed during a panel discussion on human resources, "there is no network of local trainers in this field and there is an urgent need to develop one." The Symposium also noted the critical need to train senior managers in the field of trade promotion, short of which the younger, better-trained staff are not able to make good use of their skills.
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