Only two days after the conclusion of UNCTAD IX (Midrand, South Africa, 27 April - 11 May), Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, announced the Commission´s support to the development of the Trade Point Network in Africa at the official opening session of the G7-Ministerial Conference on "Information Society and Development"(ISAD) held in Midrand, on Monday 13 May.
The final document of UNCTAD IX, entitled "A Partnership for Growth and Development" (TD/L.359), called for the consolidation of the Network "by making Trade Points fully operational and effective and by assisting interested countries, in consultation with them, in establishing new Trade Points". Addressing the ministerial delegations participating in ISAD, Mr Santer stated that "the European Commission is already taking into account the results of the UNCTAD Conference which took place in these premises last week. For example, it is planning to finance for 11 Million ECU a set of Trade Points in Western Africa. These information points will help to gather and disseminate electronically trade-related information for small and medium-sized enterprises. As such, they will constitute a powerful tool for growth and lay the foundation for electronic commerce. Furthermore, the Commission is considering the extension of this scheme to some Eastern African and Indian Ocean countries."
The overall objective of the EC support is to facilitate the participation of Western African countries in international trade. Trade Points will be established in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d´Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. Their capacity will be developed to progressively expand their functions from trade facilitation and business information dissemination to other trade-supporting services, including trade financing, banking, insurance, Customs, transport and telecommunications. This project is part of a larger Trade Efficiency initiative aimed at the establishment of Trade Points in each of the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific regions. It will be implemented in cooperation with the International Trade Centre UNCTAD/WTO, the UN Economic Commission for Europe and regional institutions such as ECOWAS.
Mr. Santer´s announcement had already been hinted at by Professor João de Deus Pinheiro, European Commissioner for Development, at the Executive Symposium on Trade Efficiency held on 29 and 30 April in Midrand in parallel with UNCTAD IX. Four hundred representatives of the private and public sectors of Southern Africa took part in this meeting, the first gathering to discuss trade efficiency at a regional level held in the aftermath of the successful United Nations International Symposium on Trade Efficiency (UNISTE, Columbus, Ohio, USA, October 1994).
In Columbus, the representatives of more than 130 countries launched the Global Trade Point Network (GTPNet), which was expected to become a major vehicle for the integration of developing countries and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) worldwide in the global economy. The GTPNet is now entering a new phase, which should allow Trade Point users to carry out transactions on the Internet. The support of the European Commission will allow African countries to benefit fully from the formidable opportunities offered by the GTPNet to the weaker players of the global economy.
The IVth World Trade Point meeting held in Midrand from 1 to 3 May in parallel with UNCTAD IX, made a further step forward in the consolidation of the GTPNet by adopting a set of guidelines for financial sustainability and cooperation among Trade Points.