Not business as usual: Developing Palestinian exports
Mahdi Hassan is proud of the challenges he overcame to gradually become one of the biggest exporters of Palestinian date palm. “Medjool date, grown in Jericho, is renowned for its taste,” says Mahdi, general manager of Emirates Delight. “We exported nearly 700 tonnes last year”, 10 times more than when the company started in 2008.
- Membership to PalTrade increased from 164 to 229 small and medium enterprises, all exporters or with potential to export.
- 80 companies received expert business advice and recommendations to support their export activities; 10 of these companies are managed by women.
- 19 certified trade advisors, including 6 women, the only such certified advisors in the region.
- In 2014 PalTrade activities directly contributed to US$45 million in Palestinian exports.
“But it is not just about profits,” he says. “It is how we ensure farmers also benefit from our exports to new markets.” The increased export of Palestinian dates by Mahdi’s company means that the small farmers he relies on can sell more of their production to meet international demand. With increased demand comes increased prices.
“We now buy our dates at twice the price of a few years ago, for a product that local farmers could not sell before,” Mahdi says. “We see it as our social commitment to the Jericho small farmers to share our opportunities and help their income.”
Like 79 other Palestinian small and medium enterprises (SME), Emirates Delights benefited from the support of the Palestinian Trade Center (PalTrade) and UNDP to increase its export potential and access new markets for its products.
“In a situation where the Palestinian economy is dramatically affected by the adverse consequences of occupation, we must address the economic empowerment of communities to improve livelihoods, achieve economic growth, reduce unemployment and poverty,” says Roberto Valent, Special Representative of the UNDP Administrator for the Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People. “Successful Palestinian exports to regional and international markets will promote employment opportunities and strengthen the role of women in the development of a sustainable private sector.”
With USD$5.5 million provided by Canada, the Export Development in the West Bank project aims to build the capacities of Palestinian SMEs, especially women-owned companies. By becoming more competitive, the businesses can develop export and employment-generating potential, resulting in economic growth and improved livelihoods for the Palestinian people.
To achieve this objective, UNDP partnered with the International Trade Centre (ITC) to enhance the effectiveness of PalTrade in responding to the export development needs of Palestinian businesses. Nineteen PalTrade staff and business consultants graduated from an internationally-recognized certification programme, enabling them to implement enterprise diagnostics, assist export strategies or provide technical assistance to Palestinian SMEs.
Nibal Awwad is one of the six women who graduated from the Certified Trade Advisers Programme (CTAP). “We are the only ones in the Middle East with this certification,” she says. “I now feel empowered as a woman: I can support any SME and provide the right advice to help them develop their export potential. The SMEs I have helped, while they were surprised to see a woman come as an adviser, have become familiar with my presence and have understood the value of the advice they have received.”
For Ma’moun Nazzal, export development manager at PalTrade, “the certification changed the way PalTrade looks at business and exports. It now allows us to support the companies to have successful export of quality products.”
In Qaliqiya, Fatima Al-Jada, manager of Al-Hana clothing and textiles company, knows the value of PalTrade support. What started in 1987 with one sewing machine is now a reputable company that employs over 300 people, mostly women.
Fatima’s achievements and contribution to her community won her the Palestinian Exporter of the Year 2015 award. “To me, this award represents the pride of the journey so far and the encouragement to continue. It really is the recognition that women are fully part of the elite of Palestinian trade.”
PalTrade provided Fatima with training on negotiation and pricing, as well as encouraged and supported her in developing promotional materials and improving the packaging of her products. She also took part in international trade fairs, where PalTrade organized the Palestinian pavilions.
Hanan Taha, Chief Executive Officer of PalTrade, recognizes the impact of the project. “In 2014 PalTrade activities were estimated to have directly contributed to $45 million in Palestinian exports,” she says. “The project supported positive changes at PalTrade and developed the skills and capacities of our staff to formulate and implement export development strategies.”
Between the initiation of the project and its end, PalTrade membership increased from 164 to 229, all exporters or with potential to export.
“Our new strategy puts gender at its core, to reach women and make sure they can benefit from our services and take part in events to promote their products, to develop their capacities, to inform them of new opportunities and connect them to markets,” Hanan says.
With an innovative approach to increasing exports, the aim is to help generate many more stories like Fatima’s and support the development of an inclusive private sector that benefits all Palestinians.