In April 2023, International Economics Consulting (IEC) celebrated its tenth anniversary, making this an opportune time to reflect on the company’s achievements and global impact over the past decade. Since its establishment in April 2013, IEC has positioned itself as a leading consulting firm in international trade. With over 160 projects successfully implemented across more than 120 countries, IEC quickly earned a reputation for excellence and high-quality results. IEC expanded its global footprint with new offices opening in London in 2018 and Ho Chi Min City in 2021, allowing the company to be closer to key strategic markets and be more responsive to the needs of its clients.
Shaping the Future of The Global Economy
Over the past decade, IEC has been at the forefront of events shaping the future of the global economy. The company has worked with Governments in developed and emerging market economies, proving strategic advice in formulating and drafting national policies and strategies; strengthening negotiations and analytical capacity; and conducting regulatory and sustainability impact assessments.
IEC has also provided support to the World Economic Forum and UN bodies on global trade matters. By undertaking innovative research on new and topical issues and influencing governments worldwide, IEC is placing itself at the forefront of shaping the global agenda and driving positive change in trade and development.
Over the past two years, IEC was engaged in defining the Economic Policy Priority of the ASEAN Indonesian Chairmanship in 2023. IEC was involved in assessing the opportunities for the advancement of regional value chains among ASEAN Member States. The evaluation focused on the reinforcement of regional cooperation in three potential sectors for RVCs, namely electronics; automotive; and medical devices. IEC has also been significantly involved in capacity-building activities in several ASEAN Member states, providing training to trade negotiation teams.
IEC has been regularly contributing evidence to the UK Government’s International Trade Committee which is responsible for examining the policies of the Department for International Trade. In February 2023, IEC’s CEO, Paul Baker, was asked to provide evidence to the UK Government regarding the scope and enforceability of environmental provisions in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Taking the Lead in Driving the Sustainable Development Agenda
A decade ago, around the time when IEC was established, the world was rocked by the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh. The incident, which resulted in the death of more than 1,100 workers, brought to the limelight the harsh working conditions and labour abuses inherent in the global textile and apparel value chain. This event raised important conversations pertaining to sustainability and accountability in global value chains. IEC has undertaken considerable work in this area. IEC’s team regularly provide their services assisting governments and companies across the world to help them identify new economic opportunities in third countries, how to integrate into regional and global value chains, and how to take advantage of existing and future free trade agreements.
Following Brexit, IEC assessed existing General Schemes of Preference (GSP) and evaluated the impact of preferential trade arrangements on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. In particular, IEC looked at how trade preferences impact women in developing countries and provided solutions to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment. In the context of the CPTPP, IEC, through Global Affairs Canada, has also assisted the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam in developing a guidebook on the environmental and labour provisions of the Agreement, aimed at explaining the obligations that arise for local businesses as well as the Government.
In 2018 (updated in 2021), IEC’s CEO developed a ‘Handbook on Negotiating Sustainable Development Provisions in Preferential Trade Agreements’ for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) to assess the enforceability framework around different uses of the term “sustainability” in the core sustainable development provisions and proposes approaches on how future trade negotiations can incorporate key provisions aligned to the sustainable development objectives. IEC also conducted a study to evaluate of the sustainability trade practices in Commonwealth states for the Commonwealth Secretariat. Taking into consideration the current efforts by the Commonwealth Member States, IEC made a series of recommendations for countries to better leverage trade and trade practices, including trade agreements for the achievement of such objectives.
In 2022, the team at IEC drafted an-award winning research paper on the impacts of the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism on African exports. In 2023, our research team drafted a policy brief on Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms (CBAM) to offer policy recommendations that will be presented to G20 leaders.
Paving the Way for Digital Trade and E-Commerce
IEC has also been at the forefront of pioneering innovative solutions in the fast-evolving field of digital trade and e-commerce. Leveraging its expertise in the field, the company has assisted several governments in assessing their e-commerce readiness and helping the private sector integrate into eMarketplaces. This spans the Pacific, ASEAN countries, and Western, Eastern and Southern African countries.
Despite greater uptake of internet and network connectivity globally, digital adoption remains relatively low for such economies. They have faced challenges in adopting the new technological landscape for doing trade, and therefore lag compared to the rest of the world. Given that e-commerce is recognised as a driver of growth and development, creating new jobs, improving labour productivity, and reducing trade costs, it is important to ensure that they can participate effectively in global work on e-commerce, particularly in the context of the WTO work programme.
IEC has worked with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors in Geneva to shape positions in this area, as well as producing positions for the Commonwealth group. With regard to the Commonwealth countries, IEC prepared a paper aimed at improving understanding of the scope and breadth of potential e-commerce disciplines in a trade context. This included an assessment of the potential development trajectory of small Commonwealth economies and an evaluation of potential e-commerce multilateral rules that would assist Commonwealth Small States in realising the opportunities and addressing the challenges that firms can encounter in participating in the digital economy.
Furthermore, in the context of the AfCFTA, IEC through a Programme Cooperation Agreement with UNECA, assisted African Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in negotiating and implementing their trade integration agenda and supported UNECA’s work surrounding e-commerce, and digital trade across the continent. IEC supported the Governments of Comoros and Mauritius in mainstreaming digital technologies and e-commerce in their national AfCFTA strategies. IEC has also worked for the US Embassy to the Republic of Mauritius and Seychelles to assess the status of electronic commerce in Seychelles, with a specific focus on women’s opportunities in the sector.
More recently, IEC has provided assistance to the Indonesian Government in identifying B2B and B2C e-commerce opportunities in order to enhance MSMEs’ participation in e-commerce and increase trade in both local and foreign markets. Three target markets were identified in the EU namely Spain, Hungary, and Germany. The study evaluated multiple eMarketplaces according to factors, such as market entry conditions, promotion tools, and support services, tailored to the specific needs and capacity of Indonesian exporters of textile and food products.
Navigating Global Crises for a More Resilient Global Economy
IEC’s establishment also coincided with the European Debt Crisis which entailed a significant impact on global trade and investment flows, especially given that the eurozone countries are major traders globally. The current international landscape also faces numerous risks and challenges. Geopolitical tensions, trade disputes, climate change, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are just some of the risks that the world currently faces. These risks, taken as a whole, pose significant threats to the stability and expansion of the global economy.
IEC has undertaken significant work aimed at mitigating the impact of such risks. In 2020, in a collaborative effort with the World Bank and the United Nations, IEC designed a COVID-19 Research Platform to promote economic recovery from the pandemic. The COVID-19 Research Platform fostered partnerships and collaboration among various actors from governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, and development partners. In this context, IEC also worked with the Regional Multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence (RMCE) and the World Bank to promote regional cooperation solutions for both the private and public sectors in their response to COVID-19 in the Indian Ocean region, with one of the key interventions focusing on the building of a regional database of potential suppliers and demanders of critical COVID-19 medical supplies.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, IEC has also been engaged in addressing the challenges faced by the informal sector. Recognising the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities and informal workers, UNDP Mauritius commissioned IEC to conduct a diagnostic assessment of the informal sector for the Government of Mauritius. A series of policy recommendations were made to ensure that informal workers can transition smoothly towards the formal sector.
Maximising Impact and Improving the Outcomes of Donor-Funded Programs
Another area in which IEC has positioned itself as a leader is in conducting rigorous impact assessments of projects for clients such as the UK Government, the European Union and the World Bank. Drawing on its expertise in monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL), IEC lends its support to institutional strengthening as well as the re-alignment of resources to ensure the efficiency, sustainability, relevance, and maximum impact of projects. Using innovative methodologies to collect and analyse data, IEC assists its clients in tracking the economic, social, and environmental aspects of donor projects. IEC plays a crucial role in guiding evidence-based decision-making and improving the implementation and design of development interventions.
One of the key impact assessments undertaken by IEC relates to an Export Diversification and Expansion Program in Cambodia through the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF). IEC also evaluated the program’s impact on the Monitoring & Evaluation capabilities of Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce and its Department of International Cooperation.
IEC, alongside Oxford Policy Management, has also been involved in evaluating the work of the World Bank’s Trade Facilitation and Support Programme (TFSP). As part of the assessment, the team conducted in-depth evaluations in three countries: Zambia, Fiji, and Sri Lanka. With regard to trade facilitation itself, IEC was also contracted by the World Economic Forum to look into the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation’s operations to assess the extent to which the Alliance has successfully mainstreamed SMEs into their work.
Another key impact assessment undertaken by IEC relates to the UNICEF Mwangaza Mashinani pilot project in Kenya where cash top-ups were provided to poor and vulnerable households in Garissa and Kilifi to purchase solar home systems. The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the impact of solar devices on women’s and children’s well-being and to understand how a market for solar devices can be developed in underserved regions.
Unlocking New Horizons with Advanced Data Analytics Solutions
Leveraging advanced technologies and expertise in data analytics, IEC excels in developing dashboards that provide valuable insights into global trade flows and market dynamics. In so doing, IEC empowers businesses, researchers, policymakers to make informed decisions and navigate the complexities of international trade. Through IEC’s Trade Insights portal, users can monitor key trade indicators for more than 200 countries, identify investment opportunities in new markets, and access expert opinions on trade and investment trends. The analytics team are in the process are developing various new intuitive dashboards, including on digital trade, to further ease strategic decision-making and shape the future of international trade.
Looking ahead to the future, IEC is well-positioned to continue influencing the world of international trade. As the global landscape continues to evolve, IEC is committed to staying at the forefront of new advances and development and promoting research and innovation to help governments and businesses worldwide navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.