Patricia Francis : " I want ITC to be a centre of trade excellence "

Based in Geneva, the International Trade Centre (ITC) is the joint technical co-operation agency of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and of the World Trade Organization (WTO) for business aspects of trade development. Its main goal is to help developing and transitional economies to achieve sustainable human development through competitive exports.
Indeed, at a time when trade is unanimously recognized as an “avenue for development”, ITC’s mandate, carried out in partnership with national, regional and international institutions, is more relevant than ever!
In June 2006, Ms Patricia Francis, a Jamaican national, was appointed by Kofi Annan (then UN Secretary-General) and Pascal Lamy (WTO Director-General) as Executive Director of ITC. Ms Francis has held several important posts in both government and the private sector. She has extensive management experience in the fields of trade promotion and technical assistance to developing countries.
The new ITC Executive Director was a former member of Jamaica’s Cabinet Committee for Development, a two-term President of the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA) and chaired the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Caribbean Rim Investment Initiative. She will head ITC for a period of three years. On behalf of DIVA, Jean-Paul Hoareau de Montrose met her at ITCs headquarters where she told us more about this organization and her new mission.
“First I must say that I am very happy to be here, in Geneva, to lead this great institution”, said Ms. Francis, “ and I am hopeful that with my understanding of both investment and trade issues I will be able to transform some of the services that we currently offer to bring greater impact to the institutions that we relate to ”.
Ms Francis is also convinced that she has inherited of a solid organisation –– which functions well thanks to “the tremendous people supporting it” –– but she would like this organization to be even more dynamic and to work hard on a “joined-up” ITC approach with its partners to achieve its promise.
She spent the last couple of months looking at the institution through a very comprehensive evaluation report of ITC –– a report which was financed by a group of donors led by Denmark –– and from a series of recommendations made by the Joint Advisory Group (JAG). Ms Francis and her team also created an International Trade Centre Programme Document for the period 2007–2009. “This Programme Document consolidates all the activities ITC plans to do, creating five chapters which look at the various regions that we are reacting with, and gives to our stakeholders a complete overview of these activities aligned with potential results and resource requirements ”, continued Ms Francis.
“At ITC we believe that we will have a greater impact if we look at things on a regional, sub-regional and national basis, keeping in mind that we will benefit from the partnership of key institutions to boost our work in the field ”, added Ms Francis.
To put it in a nutshell, Mrs Francis would like the ITC to have a dynamic dialogue with the member states so as to understand both the different critical issues in each one of the five regions –– Africa; Arab States; Asia and the Pacific; Europe and the CIS; Latin America and the Caribbean –– and the difficult situations in the various nations, according to their level of development. She would equally like the agency to be innovative and customer focused so as to have a substantial demonstration effect.
Q: As the new ITC Executive Director you want to reinforce what has been done in the recent past. Indeed, some of ITC’s products –– South/South trade or e-commerce, for example –– are doing quite well. However, what about the process of regional integration? It has not proved that successful! How do you see the future of regionalization?
Even though it has its big challenges, I think regional integration is going to be critical for the survival of small economies –– in other words, critical, not only for giants like Brazil, China or India, but for all the economies of the developing world. In these countries, regional integration has to be a means through which the private sector will be able to create the adequate economies of scale and compete for globalization.
Indeed, regional integration is not something easy to sell politically. Yet, when one looks at how to build capacity and get a foothold in a specific market, the only way to do it is to spread one’s wings. I think that the best way to spread your wings is to do it in places where you feel comfortable, where you understand the market –– where it is similar to the one you know –– and where you can build and develop successful synergies.
Regionalization is a phenomenon which I believe we cannot ignore, and which we have to encourage so as to construct solid institutions and empower the people in the regions concerned.
Q: How do you implement “capacity-building”? How do you proceed in a world where trade is global, but where the WTO is currently facing difficulties to implement the Doha Round? Do you see “capacity-building” in the same way in Eastern and Western Africa, in Southern Africa, the Caribbean or in the Pacific?
Obviously, there must be different models. I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all ”. I believe that we have to find the best way and the best solution for each one of the countries where ITC is working.
You already see that there are clashes, for instance, between Francophone conditions as opposed to Anglophone traditions. So my question is: how do we find synergy? I think that the path of least resistance is probably the most successful way because the goal is what you have to set your mind on!
I am not always committed to achieve a goal by the same means. I believe “customization” is very important. In other words, what might be good for Mauritius or for the Caribbean is certainly going to be different for parts of Africa. It is the same for North Africa. If I look at the Mediterranean countries –– which clearly have different cultures ––I will not find precisely the same solutions as those in Central or Southern Africa.
The essence of what we are trying to build is, on one side, the intellectual capacity to be able to do the analysis and understand the opportunities, and on the other to be able to guide the business community and governments in a particular way. In truth and in fact, you want to build those competences –– the same sets of competences –– but the way you will structure and enable it will depend upon the culture.
Q: When we look at the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of states –– seventy-nine members of which forty-seven are African countries –– we don’t hear much about Caribbean and Pacific issues. Do you have in ITC a different strategy for these other member states?
Yes, we do have programmes for these parts of the world. However, we don’t divide the world into ACP or non-ACP states. We have a Latin American and Caribbean region, Africa (excluding North Africa and Djibouti which are part of the Arab group of states), the Central and European states, plus Asia and the Pacific. That is how ITC divides up its countries.
It is very important for us to take into consideration the experience of the ACP –– a well established political grouping –– and utilize the relationships that we have with them in order to look at the common issues in the ACP, such as, for instance, the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) as they currently stand.
We must not forget that all ACP countries are currently very focused on EPAs. So we, at ITC, have to look at what is our response to the issues that ACP is facing, and how can we actually find solutions. We then try to find out who are the common partners. For instance, in the Caribbean and the Pacific –– where you have many common problems like those of small island states –– it is a fact that both the European Union (EU) and the Commonwealth Secretariat are important players and potential partners helping ITC solve some of the important issues.
In Africa –– where the majority of ACP states is found –– we have a much wider scope in terms of partnership with the people who are interested in finding solutions to the ACP issues.
I want to mention that in the Caribbean there is regional negotiating machinery that has been created to look at a solution for these really small island states –– countries with very limited capacity and very limited human resources –– enabling them to respond to all the major negotiations that are taking place. I think it is a very interesting model that could be replicated in many other regions where human resources are limited –– but with the knowledge base –– so as to help countries move their negotiations forward.
Q: How can ITC be involved in giving a real new boost to these agreements?
The big challenge is to determine what we actually want out of these EPAs and how they are going to help us achieve our national goals?
One of the problems we face in the developing world is the lack of capacity to understand what is happening in our countries and where the real opportunities are! Politics is actually dominated by traditional sectors who have well-developed machinery to keep the status quo in place.
We all know that new industries –– “sunshine industries” as opposed to “sunset industries” –– are the future for our people. However, because of the status quo, we don’t have a real voice. I think that ITC’s role here is to help people understand a certain number of important points: what are the transformation elements that one can derive from the economy? Where are those new opportunities? How to transform something that’s old into something new, that can really lift the livelihood of the people in the country? This is the most critical thing!
Yet, when you are faced with having to just keep the fires burning, you don’t have much opportunity to think about the future in a reflective way. I am convinced that ITC has the means and the capability for the kind of dialogue allowing these reflections to take place. We can help them to examine some opportunities and to plan how they can take advantage of the EPAs. In my view, this is the missing piece of the negotiations for these economic partnership agreements.
Indeed, there is a fair amount of analysis taking place but there is not that much vision. They are not moving forward and that is the big challenge. How can I take the risk to move forward on an uncharted course and take my country with me ?
We have been able to do this more in the least-developed countries of Asia. Now we have to find a way to make it more successful in Africa. I can say that I am very committed to trying to find ways in which we can be more transformational in African countries. I am going to make this one of my challenges here at ITC.
Q: In many ACP countries, in Africa or elsewhere, sugar was somewhat “abandoned” by producers. However, many countries on the continent are now back to the sugar industry –– although some others are suffering badly from the phasing out of the EU quota system. How could this “old” product be transformed in a “modern ” one?
I believe we are talking about huge opportunities. At the same time, we can say that viability changes, as we are no more talking about mono-focus. We are talking about multiple focuses.
That is the way we need to look at every commodity, not simply sugar. We need to look at the cotton industry in the same way, also coffee, bananas and all the other commodities. That is the process that is going to create wealth in our countries.
Q: When you say “with a different eye ”, do you mean, for example, “added values”?
“Added values”, research and development. Although the sugar-cane industry has been widely studied, who has actually implemented any of these recommendations that have had in front of us for the last 100 years? We have to take hold of the things we know, that have been sitting on shelves, and transform them into realities. That is the challenge!
Q: Your predecessor in this post also had some challenges –– South/South trade, e-commerce, the reduction of poverty in Africa and other developing countries through trade. I am convinced that you will do your best to reinforce these efforts. But what will be your “added value”?
If you look at the history of the institution, it has been through its ups and its downs. It has changed the way it has responded to clients based on the circumstances in which it found itself. My predecessor brought this institution out of a slump. He did a magnificent job in obtaining the confidence of people who supported this institution. He did that by creating the global products that you have mentioned. My challenge will be to take those global products and integrate them into solutions that can really have major impacts on people’s economies.
I think that what he was able to achieve was to create some tools and services. What he didn’t do, however, was to integrate those tools and services into products that solve people’s problems. I think that will be my challenge and my differentiation: we will look at a country, we will be a partner of that country, we will determine which one of the issues and problems we will work on together and we will find integrated solutions.
Obviously, there are risks associated with that because you are not doing as many small things as was being done in the past. There are always greater risks if you are going to have more integrated approaches. But we have seen success in places in the east where we have had these integrated programmes and where we can actually demonstrate results. I believe it is time to take that into Africa now. It’s time to find some countries in Africa that will be partners with us in the same way as countries in the east. As you know the big challenge of this world is Africa and the main resources of this institution need to be directed there!
Jean-Paul Hoareau de Montrose