'Despite the unusual situation let us all try our best to turn every obstacle in our favour! Let's try our best', exclaims Wangchuk Lhamo who owns a handicraft business. Her positivity and perseverance are just what the doctor ordered.
Earlier this year, Wangchuk and 10 other representatives from Bhutan returned from Paris with orders from international buyers. Their participation in the international trade show, Maison&Objet, known for profiling exhibitors with a unique product range, had been a great success. They brought back orders for 19 companies dealing in textile handicrafts.
Not long after this highways and runways were closed, shaking hands was forbidden and, business as usual seemed almost impossible.
However, international buyers kept their faith in Bhutanese artisans and did not cancel their orders when COVID-19 struck.
With the help of coaching and mentoring, the artisans stayed on track too and continued developing designs and working on their orders. The results have been amazing with all orders completed in time and already delivered to Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts where they await shipment.
Using on-line tools to explore new markets and ensuring food safety in horticulture
In addition to handicrafts and textiles, farmers, small enterprises and exporters in the horticulture sector are also receiving support to improve quality, marketing and production. They will be in a stronger position to explore international niche markets for their products, as a result.
As part of this support, the International Trade Centre organized an on-line training on negotiation skills for producers and exporters.
Mitigation measures are also being planned with partners through regular on-line sessions.
Bhutan Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and ITC SME academy are working together to improve the export readiness of enterprises through online training. With these improvements, they will be prepared to access new buyers in new markets and be active players during the COVID-19 recovery phase.
On-line training sessions for Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) on measures to protect food workers and improve food hygiene and sanitation practices in line with COVID-19 and Codex guidance for food businesses, are also available.
Bhutan Trade Information Portal is now ready and helping entrepreneurs to stay up-to-date on international market research. Analysis of market trends, mandatory requirements to access foreign markets, tariffs, tariff preferences, non-tariff measures, trade agreements, permits and rules of origin are some key areas covered.
This portal is linked in real time with World Trade Organization and International Trade Centre databases.
Tools such as the Agriculture Market Information System have also been set up. The system allowed the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to respond to price hikes linked to COVID-19.
Way forward: Trade policy
Dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 situation will require a strategic approach. Trade policy is urgently needed in Bhutan in order to adapt ongoing trade initiatives to future needs and help minimize the cost of the crises.
Four national consultants are currently receiving on-line training which will enable them to prepare investment profiles for mineral processing, food processing, construction and non-alcoholic beverages. This will help encourage investments in Bhutan after COVID-19.
Ongoing work with public and private sectors, in partnership with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), to produce trade policy position papers, is in full swing. Critical subjects for the economic growth of Bhutan after the COVID -19 crisis are the focus.
On-line consultations with stakeholders on economic policies that aim to revive the Bhutanese economy are also underway to consolidate trade policy.
EU-Bhutan Trade Support Project
These efforts are organized under the EU-Bhutan Trade Support Project and funded by the European Union (EU).The project aims to diversify Bhutan's exports by improving the national trade and investment regulatory framework, and increasing exports of horticultural products and textile handicrafts.