Spence, Martine M.
Evaluating export promotion programmes: UK overseas trade missions and export performance.
PhD thesis, Middlesex University.
Exporters generally agree that, in spite of communication technology, visiting foreign markets remains a necessity to acquire relevant information and to expand overseas business. For TJK exporters, these visits can be made either on an individual basis or by joining collective overseas trade missions organised by Chambers of Commerce or Trade Associations. Trade missions are part of the subsidised Export Promotion Programmes offered by the UK government to encourage SMEs to expand into foreign markets. Due to their small size, their lack of resources, and their managerial style, SMEs need external assistance to overcome the risks of internationalisation.
This thesis focuses on the evaluation of a specific Export Promotion Programme, the overseas trade missions organised primarily for SMEs by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The present research investigates more specifically the factors that have an impact on trade mission outcomes and the influence on export performance of the acquisition of experiential knowledge through trade mission participation.
This research intends to fill the gap that exists in the export literature regarding the evaluation of overseas trade missions. Trade missions have been used by exporting SMEs to facilitate their entries into remote markets. Little knowledge is available on the contribution of trade mission participation to SMEs' export performance or on the factors that are most likely to influence trade mission outcomes. In light of an increasing number of governments' trade and budget deficits and the importance of the SMEs sector in a country's economy, there is a need for a systematic evaluation of government subsidised programmes and their influence on subsequent trade patterns.
One hundred and ninety SMEs participating in twelve trade missions organised by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry were surveyed in 1996 and 1997, using a longitudinal design. The executives participating in the trade missions received a first questionnaire upon their return from the visits and a second one six months later to assess changes in behaviour and trade patterns as well as knowledge acquired during
The findings show that SMEs that follow a diversification export strategy and that acquire specific knowledge about the targeted markets prior to the trade missions are more likely to generate outcomes during the trade missions. This study also demonstrates that trade mission participation is instrumental in gaining a thorough
understanding of overseas markets and in contributing positively to the relationship building process between foreign buyers and sellers. Following the trade missions, generation of incremental sales in the targeted markets is facilitated by keeping in close contact with customers and agents and by paying them regular visits.
These findings point to the fact that successful exporting SMEs are characterised by being learning organisations where the acquisition and transfer of knowledge is facilitated within the firms themselves and between firms which are part of their business network. SMEs' export-orientation is enhanced by cross-cultural awareness, international negotiation, and foreign languages skills. This acquisition of export
knowledge and skills could be encouraged by close cooperation between SMEs, the public sector and educational institutions.
The primary contribution of this thesis is the development of a framework showing the interrelationships between firms' specific characteristics, trade mission participation, and export performance over time. The findings also provide a thorough understanding of the trade mission process, which could be used profitably by policy makers, trade mission managers, and export managers to increase their effectiveness in the design,
organisation, and use of international trade promotion schemes.
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