SIPPO Import Promotion Forum 2024: Personal exchange on the sustainability of world trade

Over the last three years, the Import Promotion Forum organised by SIPPO (Swiss Import Promotion Programme) has developed into an important platform for the exchange between Swiss importer networks and Business Support Organisations (BSO) from the 12 SIPPO countries. See the video about this great event here.

Import Promotion Forum 2024

One important innovation in the past years was the presence and involvement of Business Support Organisations from the member countries: This year, over 50 representatives of BSO were among the more than 130 participants who assembles at the Swiss Technology Convention Center at the renown École Polytechnique Fédérale (EPFL) in Lausanne. The keynote speeches, panel discussions and breakout sessions all focused on two themes: 

  • Sustainability: How can the growing demands for sustainable production and trade be met in future, given the new and stricter regulations in the EU and Switzerland?
  • Digitalisation: How can digitalisation support this focus on sustainability?

A proactive approach is important
Martin Saladin, Head of Operations at SECO (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs) explained in his key note speech how new regulations in the EU and Switzerland influence sustainable growth and sustainable trade. Voluntary labels and regulations are constantly replaced by mandatory rules and regulations. He advocated a holistic approach with intensive dialogues with both government and the private sectors on a variety of channels and underlined: "A proactive approach is important!”

BSO, Producers, Importers: Act as soon as possible
This was also emphasised in the panel discussion between Anna Vetsch (Transa), Emma Arvidsson (DER Touristik Group) and Mareike Toulas (Max Felchlin SA). When it comes to sustainability, one should never wait for legislation to force change. The sooner producers and importers take the initiative, the more carefully these measures can be designed. Further: Traceability, increasingly requested by legislators and consumers, is very demanding, not the least because digital data collection and processing is often still in its infancy.

Great example of valuable support by digital tools
However, Andrii Remizov from the Entrepreneurship and Export Promotion Office (EEPO) in the Ukraine presented the progressive digital support tool Diia from Ukraine as an impressive example how digitalisation can supports BSO and SMEs with a wide range of tools re sustainability and access to global trade.

"Sustainability is a non-negotiable for business success"
Dusanka Kalezic, Sustainability Advisor at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia reported on their major efforts to support companies and organisations on the path to greater sustainability. “Sustainability is a non-negotiable for business success”, she said. She identified clean and renewable energy, sustainable supply chains, traceability, sustainability reporting, circular economy, biodiversity and sustainabile technology as key trends.

But she also highlighted the challenges ahead of us, the BSO, SME, SIPPO and governments with their institutions, among them strategic and regulatory frameworks, climate and carbon neutrality, circular economy, reduction of resource consumption, zero-waste, education and new “green“ occupations, sustainable finances and digital and green transformation.

Burning issues to reach higher levels of sustainability in trade
In break-out groups, representatives of Swiss import networks and BSO discussed practial steps to meet the growing challenges of sustainable trade.

 The following issues, among others, were identified as requiring in-depth analysis in order to enable sustainable trade:

  • Supply chain traceability: Customers in Switzerland and Europe are demanding more and more information about where and how a product is made
  • Circularity: The use of valuable resources, for example in the textile sector, is important but faces significant regulatory hurdles.
  • Tools for better self-assessment by BSO and their SMEs in terms of traceability and their level of sustainability fitness, and tools to measure the impact of activities taken
  • (Lack of) digital tools: Information is often still only available on paper with limited access
  • Knowledge: BSOs are not always aware of the latest regulations in the EU and Switzerland, and need rapid support in terms of communication and implementation

Actions to be taken: Concrete results of the SIPPO Import Promotion Meeting
The following measures were mentioned as being necessary for SIPPO, together with the importer networks and the BSOs, to take in the near future

  • Better exchange of information, also between BSOs from all SIPPO countries
  • More generally: development and distribution of supporting digital tools, e.g. by offering new digital knowledge platforms, and training in their efficient use
  • Develop tools to identify new business opportunities that fall within the scope of the regulations and are likely to be successful in the target markets; train staff to understand the requirements of new regulations and new certificate
  • Clarifying who will bear the considerable financial burden of these measures, creating incentives for BSOs and SMEs to switch to sustainable production and supply
  • Standardise certifications and related processes

A platform that strengthens export-import relations
Clément Graf, Head of Programme at SIPPO: "This newly designed SIPPO Import Promotion Forum enables BSOs to strengthen their contacts with Swiss importer networks and to discuss the pressing challenges of sustainable trade in a practical way. I am pleased and impressed that so many BSO representatives attended this year's forum.”

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