Since its formal establishment in November 2000, the WTPF has gradually built its position as a global trade facilitator for SMEs operating through a network of more than 100 one-stop shops (Trade Points) in 80 countries worldwide. A new web portal (www.wtpfed.org) integrating all online services of the WTPF will be officially launched at the meeting in Beirut. The flagship service featured on the portal is the completely renovated trade leads service, known as the ETO (Electronic Trade Opportunities) system, which allows businesses to post and receive business opportunities daily on the Net. Other value-added trade support services – some of them new, and some already in existence – will be offered in cooperation with private sector partners. One example is the future GTDS (Global Trade Directory System), for which the WTPF has partnered with Siemens. In addition, a number of content partners, such as the World Bank, UNCTAD, International Trade Centre UNCTAD, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Ernst & Young and the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI), have contributed to the WTPF´s online Trade Information Service and its knowledge database.
After the completion of a three-year exit strategy, UNCTAD is handing over its Trade Point Programme, which assists small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with their international trade through the use of information and communication technologies, to the programme´s beneficiaries, represented by the World Trade Point Federation (WTPF). The official agreement of transfer will be signed on 4 November 2002 in Beirut, on the occasion of the Third General Assembly of the WTPF, hosted by the Government of Lebanon.
At the time that the Trade Point concept was first developed, in the early 1990s, the programme was considered highly innovative. It was new in the sense of being among the first to give practical meaning to the terms “trade efficiency” and “trade facilitation”. It was also quite revolutionary, in that it foresaw the important place that information and communication technologies would occupy in international trade.
The 10 years of existence of the Trade Point Programme in UNCTAD have not been without obstacles, but the programme managed to retain the support of Member States, Trade Points and the end beneficiaries, small and medium-sized enterprises. It began in 1992 with 17 pilot Trade Points in 14 countries, and has expanded over the years into 129 Trade Points in 82 countries, with a large number of qualified staff at the disposal of SMEs.
The WTPF´s objectives are to open international markets to new participants and to make them more competitive by giving them access to the most advanced e-commerce technologies and information networks. The focus is on SMEs from developing countries, in particular the least developed, structurally and geographically disadvantaged countries. In this endeavour the Federation seeks support not only from partners, but also from well-known international figures who share the same goals. To date, three such individuals – Enrique García Rodríguez, President of the Andean Corporation for Development, Cesar Gaviria, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, and José-María Figueres Olsen, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum – have agreed to serve as the WTPF´s Goodwill Ambassadors.
The WTPF intends to develop the Trade Point network in close cooperation with member States while remaining fully committed to its developmental goals and assistance to weaker players in international trade. After the official transfer of the programme, UNCTAD will remain involved with the WTPF through an advisory seat on its Steering Committee. It will also continue to provide support to the Federation´s secretariat and capacity-building for Trade Points.