The Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) is the trade promotion programme of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Swisscontact has been implementing the programme since April 2017. The Managing Director of the “Handel Schweiz” Swiss trade Association gives his assessment.
In eight months, Swisscontact established a 22-member global team spanning twelve country offices and launched a strategy that includes 55 export promotion organisations in our partner countries. Implementation of SIPPO is closely monitored by an Adisory Board comprised of 17 members belonging to associations and private companies; they now have the opportunity in the new 2017-2020 phase to comment on and make inputs to SIPPO strategies that ultimately support Switzerland’s commitment to Aid for Trade policies.
Kaspar Engeli, Chairman of the SIPPO Advisory Board and Director of Handel Schweiz, reflected on SIPPO’s progress after an intense first year.
Mr. Engeli, what is the value of Handel Schweiz chairing the SIPPO Advisory Board? What added value does the programme give importers?
Our chairing the Advisory Board is of no direct benefit to us, it merely completes the last steps toward ensuring market access for developing country exporters in Switzerland and the EU. The whole programme only works if products are imported that can find a market. Advisory boards can ensure this happens as they are constituted by professionals in each of the six sectors of focus (technical wood, processed foods, sustainable tourism, high-value textiles, natural ingredients, and fish & seafood). SIPPO facilitates access for importers to new and interesting procurement sources. The network is set up with this specifically in mind as it includes local offices, local and international experts, and partner organisations in the EU and worldwide. Through this network, SIPPO not only has many business contacts, but also considerable expertise in local political and economic contexts. This expertise is very important to Swiss and EU buyers when entering a new market from which to source their goods.
What in your opinion are the most significant milestones that SIPPO has reached over the last eight months?
The global team pulled out all the stops to move the programme forward: they opened 12 new offices and conducted assessments on 55 export promotion organisations while concluding the same number of strategy agreements for 2018. 11 SIPPO websites in 11 local languages were set up along with SIPPO’s main international website (www.sippo.ch). Furthermore, there was participation at various trade fairs and buyer tours. That’s an impressive achievement and a solid foundation upon which to further strengthen partnerships with stakeholders in 2018. A sturdy foundation of trust has been created.
The programme is a flagship project for Swisscontact and SECO. How did the project develop during the last year?
The transitional phase for SIPPO in its previous form to the new “Swisscontact SIPPO” was brief. It is quite challenging for the new SIPPO team to achieve a balance between promoting the new approach on the one hand and training new employees with new concepts on the other.
Is there anything you had underestimated?
Actually, all who participated in the transition from the old SIPPO approach of working directly with SMEs to the new approach at the association/industry-wide level had underestimated the difficulties. More time and convincing are needed to win over SIPPO stakeholders to the new approach and not fall back into the old mind-set. The new concept that SIPPO will no longer organise and finance trade fair booths, buyer and seller visits, and market information initiatives for the exporters directly – instead, enabling newly established export promotion entities to provide these services to their clients themselves – this will take some time.
You say that a lot has been achieved. So where do you see potential for improvement?
In 2017 the focus was on – and rightly so – the SIPPO partner countries. This was necessary in order to create the basis for a successful programme in those places. However, SIPPO has an equally important responsibility towards importers in Switzerland and the EU. And now the Advisory Board is also expecting that the network of importers in the six SIPPO sectors will be boosted.
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