Global Trade Helpdesk (GTH), completely revamped in 2020, is aimed at MSMEs worldwide. Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) in Geneva, explains how it functions and how SMEs can benefit from it.
Global Trade Helpdesk is a multi-agency initiative jointly led by ITC, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was created to simplify market research for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), by integrating trade and business information into a single online portal offered free of charge. According to ITC surveys conducted on non-tariff measures in 38 countries, half of the surveyed enterprises lack adequate trade information, thus hindering their ability to further trade opportunities.
GTH, which is supported by SECO, gives small businesses access to critical trade and market information, consolidated across databases and agencies. With this data, firms are better equipped to make informed decisions and can adapt in uncertain times and rapidly shifting market conditions.
What specific services does GTH offer Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises and what makes it unique?
Pamela Coke-Hamilton: GTH is a one-stop-shop. Small business owners and entrepreneurs simply don’t have the time and resources to look in multiple portals and databases for the information they need. GTH brings together the most complete and up-to-date information available across partner agencies to help them identify and compare trade opportunities in new markets.
In Switzerland, what key sectors are represented and how do they benefit from GTH with regards to imports into the country and exports out of it to the rest of the world?
Coke-Hamilton: GTH is a truly global platform. It provides detailed information covering over 5,000 products and provides information for over 210 economies around the world in six languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Portuguese). It covers key sectors in Switzerland, such as pharmaceuticals, machinery, wristwatches, and jewelry among others.
Can you give us a concrete example of its application?
Coke-Hamilton: Let’s consider a Swiss beauty product exporter looking to take advantage of new opportunities. Switzerland has over USD 1 billion in estimated export growth potential for this sector in the global marketplace. The Swiss SME can easily go to the GTH website, search and see the 10 markets with top export potential for this product exported from Switzerland (see print-screen (PNG, 80 kB, 17.05.2022) 1, in English).
If this Swiss SME wants to export to Singapore, one of the top 10 markets with the highest potential, they can instantly see the information that helps them make a transformational business decision by gauging market size, and economic attractiveness, and assessing recent Swiss performance in this market. They will see that Switzerland exported over USD 32 million in 2020, but there is still an additional estimated export potential of USD 151.5 million to Singapore by 2026 (see print-screen 2, in English (JPG, 77 kB, 17.05.2022)).
They can assess not just market potential, but also market barriers. They can see the costs of doing business from visible measures like tariffs to trickier “behind the border” regulatory requirements for these beauty products, and any recent changes to those regulations. They can compare the regulations applied in Switzerland with those in the target market across different categories (see print-screen 3, in English (JPG, 50 kB, 17.05.2022)).
The best thing about GTH is that it’s not just an information source, it’s a platform to make trade happen. It helps SMEs connect with relevant partners in the industry, offering trade finance, and potential support for trade promotion services (See print-screen 4, in English (PNG, 80 kB, 17.05.2022)). With a single click, a Swiss firm can quickly and easily compare a single critical data point across several promising markets (See print-screen 5, in English (JPG, 30 kB, 17.05.2022)).
Promoting entrepreneurship and innovative MSMEs in the global economy is important, but what does more responsible and inclusive globalization mean for them?
Coke-Hamilton: ITC is making sure that GTH is fit for purpose in the newly inclusive and sustainable world we live in. In the coming months, the platform will feature a Sustainable Sourcing section, which will highlight firms offering potential inputs that have already been certified for meeting globally recognized environmental and social sustainability standards. It will also highlight suppliers that are women-owned firms.
GTH aims to help global MSMEs and developing countries, in particular, face many challenges. What are the biggest obstacles in your opinion and how does GTH address these?
Coke-Hamilton: MSMEs in certain countries are struggling, especially now. They are facing supply chain disruptions, inflation and rising transport and business costs, as well as shifts in market demand for certain products. To adapt and pivot in these uncertain market conditions, they need a lot of tools – but most importantly, they need timely and robust trade and market information.
The impact of the pandemic and the resulting economic problems arising from it have been detrimental for many MSMEs. Is GTH able to assist them with proposed recovery plans and to adapt to the new, post-Covid commercial realities?
Coke-Hamilton: The pandemic taught us that we can limit our vulnerabilities by spreading our risks across different markets and continuing to adapt in our evolving global landscape. GTH helps SMEs identify and compare opportunities for their products, to help them seize new opportunities for growth and build resilience for the future. Over 100,000 firms across 200 economies have benefitted from the information in the portal, and this engagement will continue to grow in the years to come with new open webinars and additional outreach opportunities. The platform will also continue to expand by providing information on logistics providers, as well as platforms and resources relevant for e-commerce.