Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Elizabeth Morgan | International Trade Centre: A remarkable J’can achievement

Published:Wednesday | July 29, 2020 | 12:19 AM
Pamela Coke-Hamilton
Pamela Coke-Hamilton

Jamaican nationals have recorded a remarkable achievement at the International Trade Centre (ITC), located in Geneva, Switzerland. United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres last week announced that he had appointed Jamaican national Mrs Pamela Coke-Hamilton as ITC executive director. Her appointment will be initially for three years.

What makes this appointment particularly remarkable is that Mrs Coke Hamilton will be the second Jamaican woman in 14 years to head the centre. The first was Mrs Patricia Francis, 2006-2013, who was actually the first woman to hold this post since the ITC was established in 1967.

Making this appointment also notable is the fact that Mrs Coke Hamilton will be the third woman in succession to head this body. She replaces Ms Arancha González of Spain, who was executive director between 2013 and 2020. The acting executive director is also female, Dorothy Tembo of Zambia, who was previously the deputy executive director from 2014. This female dominance at the top of a non-gender-based international organisation must be rare.

I would not be surprised if a poll were to show that many people in Jamaica and, indeed, the Caribbean, are not aware of the ITC and its work, in spite of a Jamaican having previously held this post.

WHAT IS THE ITC?

The ITC succeeded the International Trade Information Centre, which was established by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1964, when its focus was on integrating the increasing number of developing countries into the global trading system. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was also held at this time and would become a specialised organisation in the UN system. The ITC reported to the GATT and UNCTAD. While GATT dealt with trade rules, and UNCTAD with research and policy analysis, the ITC was to assist developing countries with the marketing of products and developing trade promotion services.

Presently, the ITC is a joint subsidiary of the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD and is a focal point for delivering technical assistance to developing countries, particularly the least developed and small island developing states (SIDS).

The ITC focuses, among other things, on providing trade and market intelligence; building a favourable business environment; strengthening trade and investment support institutions; improving the competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs); connecting to international value chains; promoting and mainstreaming green trade; and promoting regional economic integration and South-South links. The ITC works with various donor agencies to provide technical assistance.

Through the years, the ITC collaborated with regional organisations, such as the CARICOM Secretariat, Caribbean Export Development Agency and the Caribbean Development Bank, as well as the government institutions of members states on various projects. In the last 10 years or so, projects have focused on cultural industries, MSMEs, export strategies, and identifying non-tariff barriers.

The ITC recognises that the Caribbean still needs to do more to strengthen national trade promotion programmes, especially in the development of non-traditional sectors, adding value to natural products, strengthening services sectors, and devising market strategies. In the past, the ITC has emphasised the need for Caribbean countries to improve the collection of services statistics to contribute to planning and development of these sectors.

ITC IN COVID-19

In a series of recent articles in her position as director of UNCTAD’s International Trade and Commodities Division, Mrs Coke-Hamilton has pointed to the devastating impact that COVID-19 is most likely to have on SIDS, which are dependent on tourism. Tourism accounts for 20-50 per cent of the GDP of several Caribbean countries. In a July 14 article, she also called on Caribbean governments to diversify the creative sector post-COVID-19, noting that a proactive and strategic approach to transforming the sector cannot wait.

The ITC states that as the body mandated to support MSMEs, it is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 to support them in generating resilience, inclusiveness and future growth.

Secretary General Guterres, in his press release, stated that Mrs Coke Hamilton will be leading the organisation at a pivotal moment, given the catastrophic impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed on the global trading system, particularly on MSMEs in developing countries, with ITC required to play a vital role in assisting in building stronger and more resilient businesses and countries.

I am conveying my best wishes to Mrs Coke Hamilton as she assumes her new post. She surely comes to the ITC at a very challenging time for the entire multilateral trading system.

I hope, at this time of crisis, that the ITC will be able to work with the countries in the Caribbean to further diversify and build business resilience.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com