The capacity to trade comes more easily to some societies, and parts of society, than to others. While all societies engage in some sort of trade, reaching out beyond community, village, state or country markets to tap into the wider regional and global markets can be a daunting task, and one that requires enhanced skills, negotiating powers, and links to the necessary networks.

EnACT programme beneficiary

In 2009, the International Trade Centre (ITC) launched Enhancing Arab Capacity for Trade (EnACT). This four-year programme, funded in large part by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), capitalizes on the long-term partnership and trade development expertise of ITC to develop the full export potential of five countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.

While the programme focuses on trade in these countries as a whole, it also concentrates on four main areas:

  • Improving trade intelligence, trade policy and export strategy
  • Strengthening the capacity of trade support institutions to promote export competitiveness
  • Developing markets and supporting small- and medium-sized private sector companies (particularly in the handicraft sector)
  • Creating opportunities for women and young people

The EnACT programme pays particular attention to strengthening skills-building activities, allowing for export-related employment creation, especially better equipping women and youth to secure and sustain their jobs in a competitive export sector. Of interest to professional buyers, environmental concerns are also systematically addressed in the design and implementation of EnACT activities.

As a whole, the five EnACT countries are characterized by young demographics, are endowed with natural resources and strong agricultural and industrial potential, and are in relative proximity to buyer markets in Europe, the Gulf’s oil rich region and the rest of Africa. In addition, their own mutually growing markets have the strong potential to absorb products and services originating from the region. Each individual country has its own challenges, ranging from structural barriers including high unemployment, inequitable growth, and economic vulnerability, to infrastructure and general economic constraints, including the high cost of shipping, and currency controls that inhibit customers from paying for services from abroad, a key component of the online side of trade development that is so essential to the region. Finding sustainable employment is still a serious challenge even for educated youth.

With this as a backdrop, the EnACT programme’s objective in these countries must be about employment creation for women and youth because all these countries need to create value-based jobs at a very fast rate in order to ensure their balanced, critical development. So the EnACT programme is stretching its wings and looking for the best ways to create these jobs. EnACT is working to create the value chains in each of the five countries, ones that generate employment for women and give independence to people in landlocked regions who have limited means to reach wider markets. These value chains start with the initial product on offer.

Take, for example, a Tunisian handbag made by a small enterprise that has benefitted from the EnACT programme. While the handbag itself is made by one person in one community, its hammered copper handle is made by another, and the tassels on the side by yet a third, and the bag to ship it in by a fourth. Then the people employed at the shipping company when the final product is sent to the end consumer or to the market constitutes another beneficiary. And all of these people have suppliers for their basic materials, each creating a step in the value chain and job creation that reaches ever further into society. By providing what appears to be only a minimal amount of support, the programme is actually capable of having quite a far reaching impact in individual communities and in countries as a whole. And, as other small companies see what can be done, they are inspired to follow along the same path, creating more jobs and improving livelihoods.

A major hurdle for many of these budding entrepreneurs is connecting with markets. They may have the ideal product, one that market studies have shown will sell well in their region or to global markets, but the problem is getting them to markets. Thus one main focus of the programme is connecting them to international buyers. EnACT’s e-commerce workshops support the SMEs in developing their skills in online marketing and digital networks. EnACT supports efforts that build skills, and provides advice on Web marketing and e-commerce to governments and budding entrepreneurs in the region. It is important now for governments to give their online entrepreneurs the best possible chances to compete by liberalizing postal markets, easing currency controls, and by making online payments available locally. These steps, more than any other, boost e-commerce

Read the EnACT success stories:

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