UNCTAD´s programme to promote small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) development, EMPRETEC-Palestine, expanded its membership following a third Entrepreneurship Training Workshop, held in Ramallah from 24 May to 2 June. The programme is funded by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for the benefit of the Palestinian Fund for Employment and Social Protection (PFESP) and is supported by the host institution, the Palestinian Federation of Industries (PFI).
Nineteen participants, including managers and entrepreneurs planning to establish new businesses, received EMPRETEC certificates and thus became official members of the EMPRETECOs programme. This brings the total membership to 62 entrepreneurs, 30% of whom are women, in addition to five Palestinian trainers who are currently fulfilling the requirements for becoming certified EMPRETEC trainers. EMPRETECOs members benefit from the programme´s follow-up services, which help them to prepare business plans, access financial markets and establish mutually beneficial links with larger national and foreign companies.
EMPRETEC-Palestine is a key component of the PFESP´s Enterprise Development Programme (EDP), which provides technical assistance for entrepreneurs supported by a credit programme through banks. The EDP played a critical role in enhancing SMEs´ resilience during the crisis of the last four years. Indeed, nine Palestinian EMPRETECOs started their own businesses a few months after attending training workshops in 2002 and 2003; seven participants expanded their existing operations; and two re-opened their businesses. EMPRETEC-Palestine´s future plans include consolidating and expanding the programme´s activities within the operational budget of the PFI, leading to the establishment of a second office and a service structure in Gaza.
Meanwhile, UNCTAD and the PA Ministry of Finance (MoF) General Directorate of Customs and Excise are finalizing implementation of Phase II of Preparations for the UNCTAD Automated System for Customs Data Analysis (ASYCUDA++). The European Union-funded project involves the installation of the system´s prototype in the Customs headquarters in Ramallah and three pilot sites in Jericho, Bethlehem and Al-Ram, all now operational. Preparations are under way for implementing Phase II, which will be the system´s full roll-out, linking all international entry points electronically, centralizing the monitoring of different Customs activities under a single roof, and going live at all Customs offices. Phase III will also see the integration of ASYCUDA into trade arrangements being considered to address expected Israeli disengagement from Gaza this year. And Phase III will involve the installation of ASYCUDAWORLD in 2006 to enable PA Customs to enter the world of e-Customs.
With funding from the International Development Research Centre of Canada, significant progress has been achieved under the Integrated Framework for Palestinian Macroeconomic, Trade and Labour Policy being implemented by UNCTAD in close cooperation with the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) and ILO. A computerized Integrated Simulation Framework (ISF) model is now operational and capable of assessing the short- and long-term impacts of alternative economic policies. Economic modelling training activities took place in Ramallah from 10 to 21 April with the participation of 19 PA staff from the Ministries of Planning, National Economy, Finance and Labour, and from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and the Palestinian Monetary Authority.
UNCTAD experts were discussants at a meeting entitled, "Towards an Economically Viable Palestinian State", held in Ramallah on 23 May and funded by the UK Department for International Development. The meeting, attended by over 100 experts, evaluated the results of the economic policy programme implemented over seven years by the PA Ministry of National Economy and the London School of Economics and Political Science. UNCTAD experts commented on papers on future trade policy options and on the main components of a strategy for a sovereign trade framework involving domestic legislation, reform and WTO accession.
In addition, a team of UNCTAD experts was dispatched last month to the occupied Palestinian territory to discuss PA MoF debt management under the Norwegian-funded project on Strengthening Capacities in Debt Monitoring and Financial Analysis (DMFAS). In a workshop in Gaza on 22 May, several training activities were planned for the coming months to build the capacities of managers and staff in such areas as debt statistics, legal aspects of debt and financial management, debt and aid negotiations and debt portfolio review.
And, in response to the PA´s request for technical assistance in trade facilitation and logistics, and with the support of the EU, preparations are under way to establish a Palestinian Shippers Council to defend and promote the interests of Palestinian shippers. The Council is also expected to play an important role in raising awareness about different trade facilitation projects targeting the shipping sector and in ensuring that those efforts have the proper synergies.