From contact to contract Building capacity of business support organisations to adapt to the new online trade promotion environment

Between 20 July and 28 September 2021, the International Trade Centre (ITC) is holding several weeks of training to build the capacity of BSOs and businesses in Côte d’Ivoire to better prepare them for participation in online trade fairs and business to business (B2B) events. The training is part of ITC’s United Kingdom Trade Partnerships Programme (UKTP) in Cote d’Ivoire and funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to trade activities throughout the world. It also has had a strong impact on trade promotion dynamics. Trade fairs, an indispensable means of trade promotion, have been cancelled or switched to an online mode. Stakeholders, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and business support organisations (BSOs) such as chambers of commerce, trade associations and other institutions, must adapt to this new reality.

The restricted movement during the global pandemic has hindered the organisation of trade fairs, a necessary means for MSMEs to promote their products in international markets. Trade fairs have significant advantages in terms of trade promotion, as they allow companies to have direct exposure to international buyers and suppliers as well as government agencies, media, and influencers in one place. They also allow them to exchange information with other businesses, analyse the competitiveness of their products compared to others, expand their network through face-to-face communication, and raise the visibility of their brand.

BSOs play a particularly important role in the organisation of trade fairs. They can inform exporters of legal requirements, organise networking events and communicate with the media. They are also better placed to promote a national or sector branding effort and contribute to the attraction of investment.

However, MSMEs and BSOs are not always aware of the challenges and opportunities related to trade fairs and are often unfamiliar with the new reality of virtual engagements.

Therefore, UKTP Cote d’Ivoire is organising a “Training of Trainers” workshop which aims to increase the capacities of BSOs so that they can support their members in making the best out of both physical and virtual trade fairs.

Through 13 sessions, including technical knowledge as well as “soft skills”, the BSOs will learn how to advise Ivorian exporting companies/cooperatives to utilise trade fairs as a platform, where they can move ‘from contacts to contracts’, with the overall goal to increase exports to UK and EU markets. Training the trainers is an approach that ensures the sustainability of the project as it builds stronger institutional capacity among MSMEs over the longer-term.

One of the participants, Casimir Kouakou from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the “training reinforces my skills in accompanying businesses wishing to participate in trade fairs. I really enjoyed the module on the trade fair selection process and the module on planning and budgeting for participation in fairs.”

The ability to navigate these trade fairs is becoming a more important skill in the new global trading environment. Trade growth is likely slow to 4% in 2022, with the total volume of trade remaining below the pre-pandemic trend1. New waves of infection could easily undermine economic recovery, and future disruptions are likely to have a more damaging effect on the most vulnerable people, pushing an estimated additional 130 million people into extreme poverty2.

1 World Trade Organization, “World trade primed for strong but uneven recovery after COVID-19 pandemic shock”, available at:, accessed on 03-08-2021.

2 UNCTAD, 2020, “Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trade and Development: Transitioning to a New Normal”.

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