South Africa has scored a major international coup by securing the first-ever Service Exporter Network annual meeting to be held outside of Europe. The SEN meeting takes place from 12 to 15 November in Johannesburg and is hosted by the Geneva-based International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the WTO and the UN.
The meeting will be collaboratively hosted in SA by the ITC, the national Department of Trade and Industry (dti) and the City of Joburg, with additional support being provided by the International Marketing Council (IMC) and Johannesburg Tourism.
South Africa was chosen to host the meeting due to its high potential services sector. It is a champion of the emerging market, with well-developed financial, legal, communications, education and transport industries as well as modern infrastructure supporting the efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the region.
SEN is managed by the ITC’s Trade in Services Programme (TSP) and its annual meeting aims to foster innovation, forge networks and provide a platform for its members and TSP specialists from around the world to share services trade expertise.
The discussion will bring together renowned African and international political, trade and business leaders to debate ways to bolster African business participation in regional and global supply chains.
South Africa boasts a diverse services sector: from tourism, education and training to construction and ICT outsourcing, with such services accounting for 70% of the country’s GDP.
Identified as a key driver of economic growth, the services sector is also one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. The South African Reserve Bank estimates that the service trade grew 56% between 2002 and 2006 alone.
Internationally, the picture is very similar. The services sector accounts for two thirds of global output, one third of global employment and nearly 20% of global trade. It provides every input into goods trade, from transport to financial and IT services. Since 2000, the global services sector has grown at an annual rate of 10.1%, one percentage point more than that of goods trade.
This is especially significant considering Africa’s performance in global comparisons of the business and trade climate: the World Bank Group says that 23 of the 30 countries with the most difficult business environments are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The SEN meeting will further profile South Africa as a services-focused economy, by showcasing its efficient, capable and competitive services to trade organisations from the 40 countries participating in the event, which is by invitation only.
"All participants in this event have a common purpose – to promote and understand service exports. This provides South Africa with a unique opportunity to position its services sector in the minds of these influential individuals and to give companies the opportunity to showcase their skills and service offerings," says Emmanuel Barreto, Senior Advisor on Trade in Services at the ITC.
Trade organisations from the following countries will be participating in the event: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Uruguay.
It is anticipated that the event will go a long way to promoting South Africa’s and Africa’s export service potential within these countries, which represent more than 1-million services companies with a combined revenue of more than $1-trillion.
Based around the theme of "making the invisible, visible", the four-day event will look at the global and local services sector situation (as well as services infrastructure); tools and skills in project design and development; ICTs, software and call centres; the link between investment and service exports; and the future of this sector.
The SEN programme works to strengthen service sector competitiveness at micro, meso and macro levels in developing countries and transition economies in an effort to diversify and contribute to sustainable employment and export revenue. These are important factors in assisting countries with poverty alleviation.
Barreto says the Johannesburg meeting is vitally important as it lends tangibility to the services sector.
"A service provider is selling a promise. The product is invisible and a sale is based on credibility. It is all about reputation, and buying decisions are made easier when having a good word from those that we trust. SEN makes the invisible, visible. It focuses on building a network among trade support institutions from developing countries and on sharing knowledge, building rapport and developing reputations. It helps people – even the poorest of the poor – to trade in services," he says.