Poverty and Development Division
last updated : 20 December 1999
PROMOTION OF TRADE AND INVESTMENT THROUGH ELECTRONIC COMMERCE
Electronic commerce technologies can assist governments and enterprises in their trade and investment promotion activities, some examples of which are given below.
Matching of trade and investment opportunities. Systems that instantly match opportunities with company attributes and deliver information to target users have been developed to support trade and investment databases. Such systems are designed as management tools to match supplier companies with domestic and international buyers, track products and services, pinpoint companies engaged in a given product, locate them, and proactively push these opportunities. Linking enterprises by name, product or location to a number of opportunities through the use of personal computers and the Internet is one area in which ICT has made inroads for commerce, particularly for SMEs. Matching and transmitting such information increases value added. This can be done by trade associations, including chambers of commerce and industry, and sector-specific or function-specific organizations. It could be explored as an income-generating activity.16
Electronic catalogues and advertising through the Internet. Graphics have become a powerful tool to display products and services in a virtual manner. The term "electronic catalogue" is now used in parallel with electronic commerce. Line drawings, maps, plant layouts, garment sketches and so on can be dispatched and accessed anywhere in seconds. Companies project themselves in corporate annual reports, brochures, price lists, product descriptions, staff photographs, logos, maps, and audio and video clips, all of which persuade a viewer to take a decision. Various search engines are available which make it possible to perform speedy search and query functions from universal information sources.
For example, a programme operating in Bangladesh and the Philippines among other countries, PEOPLink, provides technical Internet assistance for income generation and international trade projects. Its basic tool kit for digital trade consists of cheap and simple equipment, software and procedures for use by organizations with limited financial and human resources. It also includes training modules and design concepts. A network of digitally capable grass-roots organizations promotes and markets a wide range of crafts and agricultural goods produced by marginalized producers such as women workers in isolated villages. The programme demonstrates that the cost-benefit ratio is weighed in favour of the target producers, given the low cost of technology and the high benefits from exports.
Virtual exhibition centres. ITC has provided developing countries with a Web site where the products of artisans are displayed in an electronic catalogue. This Virtual Exhibition Centre, which promotes the artisan sector in the world market, was established in close collaboration with national trade promotion organizations, chambers of commerce and other business organizations, and non-profit organizations promoting trade for developing countries. In each category, information is provided on selected products. The Virtual Exhibition Centre is also offered on CD-ROM. Similarly, gems and jewellery companies in Thailand have established various Web sites that are digital catalogues containing details of the products being offered, including descriptions, photographs, prices and e-mail order forms, and other useful browsing and purchasing tools. Video conferencing is used between Thai jewellery companies and buyers overseas to discuss and adjust design specifications, and to reduce the lead time for ordering production and delivery.
In all countries, national information centres will need to examine their range of potential services to include value-added data dissemination services to users and members by balancing the need to create their own databases as measured against potential access to other similar databases. Table V.3 shows the state of development of such trade information centres in the developing countries of the ESCAP region. Diversification of information sources would also encourage knowledge about different business cultures, and these sources should be taken from as wide an area as possible in the region and overseas using connectivity. Trade and investment centres would need to be phased into technology-dependent processes and understand the need to specialize in areas where they have a comparative edge, as it is expedient to access other centres for types of information beyond their scope.
Cooperation at the subregional level provides opportunities for economies of scale in approaching the issues involved in using electronic means to promote trade and investment. For example, the Pacific island countries are well placed to accomplish electronic commerce networking based on a cooperative approach. While institutional frameworks such as intergovernmental forums and regional organizations are available, national government institutions are in many instances less well developed. Given the small size of the economies involved, programmes which broker information from sources to the business communities of the Pacific island countries could be encouraged to increase networking in the trade and investment sector.
Table V.3. Trade information institutions in selected economies of the ESCAP region
Source: Compiled by the ESCAP secretariat from various sources.
16 Coding and classification of goods and services has been a focus of the information-related functions of ITC. Its internationally used programme, COMREG, for company registers, incorporates information on company profile, location, products and services and other data elements that are universally used in the compilation of trade directories, matching services, yellow pages and company profiles. The Trade Point initiative of the Trade Point Development Centre of UNCTAD uses the "electronic trading opportunities" (ETO) matching system. Other types of electronic matching and company dissemination are in diskette and CD-ROM format and contain collected and processed information of governments, semi-autonomous bodies and private companies that expand the opportunities for firms to select trading and business partners. All these could be used.
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