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COVID-19 pandemic & digitalisation of export promotion services – are changes here to stay?

Business leaders, academics and policymakers alike have emphasized over time the challenges of internationalization, and the need for public support in providing better access to foreign markets. Launching in a new market has been a challenge for a number of reasons, from the sheer cost and physical distance, through psychic distance to lack of knowledge and networks in destination markets.

The public sector has come up with several tools for supporting internationalization; European countries have been particularly active in this domain. The key measures include financial support for discovering and pursuing market opportunities, as well as non-financial support, with measures such as issuing publications with market analysis of different foreign markets, as well as advisory and legal services for firms. Most importantly, many trade promotion agencies and programs have relied on overcoming the physical distance by co-organizing and often financing in-person attendance of trade shows, trade missions, acceleration programs (for startups/tech firms), conferences and networking events in destination markets. In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, these tools have largely become obsolete, as most large-scale events are being cancelled or moved online (Nikkei Asian Review, Bangkok Post, Digital Commerce 360), and travel restrictions make study visits and in-person networking impossible.

With the economic impact of the pandemic, many firms may be limiting their internationalization efforts – the role of the export promotion services is therefore even more important now than before, to help build the resilience of the global economy and ensure availability of products across the global markets. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting digitalization of public services, is having an important impact on how export promotion services are delivered. It is interesting to try and analyse the emerging trends and to ask ourselves the question – are changes here to stay?

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