This report is an output of the project entitled "Comparative Study on the East Asian and Latin American IT Industry", which was executed by the Division of International Trade and Integration of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in collaboration with the Institute of Developing Economies of the Japan External Trade Organization (IDE/JETRO). The project was financed by the Thematic Trust Fund: Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Development of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The report provides an overview of the present status of information technology (IT) and its use to promote international trade. It focuses on experiences in IT usage by small- and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American and Caribbean regions. Special emphasis is placed on SME exporters in the 13 countries covered by the study, which were selected from among the member countries of the Forum for East Asia - Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC). The primary objectives of the study were: (i) to enhance intra- and interregional business ties in IT-based supply chains in each FEALAC member country; (ii) to develop SMEs through IT usage; (iii) to promote interregional cooperation between SMEs in the two regions; and (iv) to reduce poverty through SME development.
SMEs play essential roles, especially in developing countries, as job creators and social stabilizers, as well as sources of innovation. In so doing, they contribute both to poverty alleviation and to the overall economic development process. The majority of SMEs are still confronted with formidable obstacles when seeking to start or expand their businesses (especially those related to international trade), but the IT revolution is providing SMEs with effective tools which they can use, in conjunction with appropriate government policy measures, to overcome many of the hurdles they face.
These studies of 13 FEALAC member countries -six from Asia (Japan, People's Republic of China, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam) and seven from Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru)- have addressed the following issues: the contribution made by SMEs to the economy; IT usage by SMEs; and IT-related policies designed to promote SME participation in international trade. In addition, for each country examined, several case studies were conducted in order to identify successful IT business practices used by SMEs. The present volume provides a synthesis and summaries of the 13 individual country studies. The complete version of each country study will be made available shortly on the ECLAC International Trade and Integration Division's website: www.eclac.cl/comercio.
The findings of these country studies indicate that an increasing number of SMEs are gaining access to ITs, even in developing countries, although a wide digital divide remains, especially between microenterprises/small firms, on the one hand, and medium-sized firms, on the other. The case studies conducted at the sector and firm levels demonstrate that, by utilizing ITs effectively, some SMEs have succeeded in improving their management capacities, adding more value to their products and services, and/or accessing foreign markets.
In order to share the findings of these studies and promote debate on these issues, ECLAC and IDE/JETRO held the International Seminar on Information Technology for the Development of Small and Medium-sized Exporters in East Asia and Latin America on 23-24 November 2004 at ECLAC headquarters in Santiago, Chile. The seminar, which was attended by a large number of experts from both regions, was opened with inaugural addresses by Ms. Alicia Bárcena, Deputy Executive Secretary of ECLAC; Ms. Irene Philippi, Resident Representative in Chile of UNDP; and Ambassador Mitsuhiro Kagami, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Nicaragua and former Executive Vice President of JETRO. We are very grateful to all participants for their stimulating comments and contributions to the event.
Following the international seminar, project findings have been presented at the FEALAC Economy and Society Working Group meeting (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 25 November 2004), which was organized by the Governments of Argentina and Japan as the co-chairs of the Working Group, and at the Symposium on the Promotion and Application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises' Competitiveness (Lima, Peru, 8-9 July 2005), which was organized by .the Government of Peru in coordination with the Centre for the Promotion of Small and Micro-enterprise (PROMPYME). It is our sincere hope that the project studies and the involvement of project participants in these events will contribute to the creation of a cooperative framework for SME development within FEALAC.
The experts who participated in this project and international seminar shared the opinion that governments, international organizations and other bodies concerned with ITs, international trade and development issues should set up coordination mechanisms to help them translate broad government policy frameworks into concrete actions and streamline the currently vast and inefficient array of IT promotion policies. The views expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the project's executing agencies.
We would like to thank UNDP, especially Mr. Raul Zambrano, Development Policy Adviser, and Atsushi Yamanaka, ICTD Specialist, of the UNDP Bureau for Development Policy, and Ms. Josefa Errázuriz Guilisasti, Operations Coordinator with the Office of the Resident Representative in Chile of UNDP, for their coordination efforts.
We are particularly grateful to Ambassador Akio Hosono, the Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of El Salvador, who developed the concept for this research project in collaboration with Ambassador Kagami and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. Special thanks are also due to Mr. Mikio Kuwayama, Officer-in-Charge of the ECLAC International Trade Unit, who effectively coordinated the entire project, and to Professor Masatsugu Tsuji, with the University of Hyogo, and Mr. Rodrigo Cárcamo Olmos, Project Consultant, for their contribution to this project's implementation. Mr. Yasushi Ueki, Expert on Mission from IDE/JETRO to ECLAC, not only contributed to several chapters of the report but also coordinated the technical aspects of the project with consultants and IDE/JETRO.
We would like to express our appreciation to the many ECLAC staff members who worked on this project. We are also grateful to the staff of IDE/JETRO, especially Ms. Tamayo Ito for her research assistance and Ms. Masako Hasegawa, Mr. Shuji Uchikawa, Ms. Tomoko Kubota and Mr. Toshihiro Kudo for their administrative assistance.
José Luis Machinea Executive Secretary Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean
Akifumi Kuchiki Executive Vice President Japan External Trade Organization