The absence of even basic business information in many developing countries and economies in transition is in stark contrast with the abundance of such information in developed market economies. Business information can be improved through the initiatives of commercial suppliers, business associations, the government sector and intergovernmental organizations. The production of such information by public and private sector institutions in developing countries and economies in transition has often been hampered by a lack of financial and human resources as well as by a failure to appreciate its value.
Commercial suppliers of business information (including commercial publishers of company data, on-line databases, the business press, information brokers and consulting companies, trading companies and banks etc.) provide the vast majority of business information. Such suppliers of business information should seek to improve the coverage of their business information on developing countries and economies in transition. They should explore possibilities of meeting the growing demand for business information from users in developing countries and economies in transition at advantageous prices and in user-friendly formats.
Business associations, such as chambers of commerce and trade and industry associations, have the advantage of being particularly close to their member companies and tend to have special credibility with the business sector. Such associations should be aware of the important contribution that they can make towards increasing the efficiency of international marketing through business information. In line with their specific mandates and resources, they should collect, analyse and disseminate basic business information such as contact data, sector-specific statistics etc. Moreover, they should assist their members in learning how to apply business information effectively for international marketing. In view of their strength in selective dissemination, business associations should consider participating in international business information networks of a regional nature (e.g. PTA Tinet) or global nature (e.g. Trade Points). They should ensure that their services are available not only to the well-established firms but also to small and medium-size enterprises and newcomers in international trade.
Government sector institutions are key players in ensuring efficient availability, access and utilization of business information. Due to the special characteristics of the market for business information, the role of government is complex and demanding. It encompasses, among others, the economic policy framework for commercial producers, telecommunications infrastructure and the production and dissemination of selected types of business information. Such institutions should be aware of the importance of business information for economic development. As a prerequisite for ensuring an efficient supply of business information, governments should ensure a non-discriminatory and conducive policy framework for commercial suppliers of business information. This applies in particular to countries in which government institutions do not have the necessary resources and expertise to take a more active role.
Government institutions should also recognize their important role as the source of selected types of business information. Departments of statistics and customs departments should provide timely foreign trade data and other statistical information. Information on tariffs and other trade regulations should be provided by the relevant authorities. All information should be supplied in user-friendly formats oriented towards the needs of the business community. Governments have a particular responsibility to disseminate in an opportune and transparent manner information on international business opportunities created as a result of their procurement activities (e.g. tenders).
The government sector should facilitate the provision of business information and related support services to the business community at large, and to SMEs and newcomers to international trade in particular, through trade promotion organizations and trade commissioner services. International experience on the conditions of success for running efficient business information centres and services should be taken into account. Close coordination with the final users and the business sector in general should be institutionalized in order to avoid credibility gaps. Governments should designate a national focal point responsible for coordinating and advancing the complex tasks of government institutions in relation to business information.
Intergovernmental organizations – including international and regional organizations – complement the role of national institutions involved in business information. Their comparative advantage is related to their close working relations with a large number of national governments, their ability to monitor international experiences in the generation and dissemination of business information, and the absence of commercial and national interests. They have a contribution to make by setting standards, as suppliers of international business information and as providers of technical assistance.
Organizations involved in the preparation of statistics should make an effort to improve the coverage and timeliness of foreign trade and other business statistics, in particular as far as developing countries and economies in transition are concerned. They should review their pricing policies with a view to minimizing the exclusion of users in developing countries and economies in transition.
Regional and international organizations should strengthen and extend existing business information networks in line with user requirements. They should provide overviews of available business information sources and services with the objective of facilitating the choice between different sources and services and acting as clearing houses for different experiences in the generation, collection and dissemination of business information. In line with their respective mandates, they should step up their technical cooperation efforts with a view to enhancing the availability, access to and efficient use of business information in developing countries and economies in transition. Efforts should concentrate in particular on lower-income countries, industries the development of which can make a contribution to employment generation and poverty eradication, and small and medium-size enterprises.
The International Federation for Information and Documentation has special interest groups on 'Banking, Finance and Insurance Information (FID/BFI)' and 'Advisory Services for Small and Medium Sized Industry (FID/ASSMI)', and a committee on 'Information for Industry'.
There is substantial evidence that technical assistance in the area of business information and related trade promotion services can generate significant new trade and income. Non-availability of business information leads to sub-optimal business strategies. It tends to exclude firms from developing countries and economies in transition from international business activities, and in particular creates obstacles to trade among such countries.
Any comparison between recommendations made in this area and resources available clearly reveals a significant resources gap. Additional resources are indispensable to provide: the necessary technical assistance to ensure increased transparency of sources of information; training in the effective generation, collection, analysis, dissemination and utilization of business information; the extension of existing business information networks of particular interest to enterprises in developing countries and economies in transition. Resources for these tasks have declined drastically in the 1990s.