The International Trade Professionals Programme                            

It may seem odd to welcome 2021 in the middle of June. We haven’t lost track of the date in some sort of work from home confusion, but are rather making a round-up of the International Trade Professionals Programme (ITPP) 2020 in readiness to open the doors for the new 2021 cohort later this month. 

The ITPP is the only opportunity for the future leaders of trade finance to assert themselves and  develop professional skills, understanding and reputation. It is a unique programme which enables you to challenge and simultaneously inspire your peers, enact your potential and learn from industry experts. But it is also much more than that. Even more so with the unprecedented nature of 2020, when we were all apart, the ITPP was a community. 

The aims of the ITP are simple:

  • promote trade education to professionals starting in the industry
  • share insights of best practise amongst peers
  • build an international community of like minded trade professionals
  • advocate and promote trade in all corners of the world

Reflecting on the achievements of our inaugural programme, we did just that. TFG provided each participant with the support and expertise to explore topics of personal interest, fuelling their curiosity, enabling them to grow within the industry whilst gaining recognition for their work. The ITPP 2020 saw an international cohort of 36 trade professionals, writing a wide range of topics from financial crime and women in trade, to transit systems and economic revival post-Covid. Throughout the entire research and write up process, each professional worked 1:1 with a member of TFG’s editorial team.  All finished articles were published on TFG’s website, with 5 featured in TFG’s magazine Trade Finance Talks.

Top ten winners of ITPP

  • Aditya Dadheech
  • Akinbobola Olugbemi
  • Elif Kuman
  • Fragkoulis Kakaris
  • John Khaw
  • Lungi Mchunu
  • Mathieu Saadati
  • Matthew Lane
  • Mohamed Elnaggar
  • Poppie Simmonds

The top ten winning writers were each awarded an accredited course by The London Institute for Banking and Finance (LIBF). The winners selected their choice out of the six LIBF Trade Finance and Transaction Banking Qualifications.

TFG has since interviewed last years’ winners to hear their stories, career achievements and ITPP journey, a selection of which, together with the context of world events, are set out below.

Reflections on the Inaugural Year

Mohamed Elnaggar shares his reflections on completing the LIBF course together with the programme as a whole: “The course was helpful and related to my work. I got new knowledge about Supply Chain Finance techniques which would complete my understanding of trade finance tools and for sure will be an added value to my work. For those who believe that they could add new perspectives to the industry and those looking for a channel to deliver their message, the ITPP would be their sincere guide during their journey.”

In his article Negotiable Instruments are going through a makeover – the who, what, where, why, Elnaggar identifies the legal challenges needed to overcome for trade digitization to progress. He aptly conveys the juxtaposition between technology and the law; one continually seeking to advance and the other enforcing the traditional status quo. This is thought provoking on so many levels, reflecting the timeless tension between privacy and security,  between the judicial system and science, beyond the matter of electronic documents. This past year everyday life has changed in nearly every way, with new laws or guidelines being put in place by governments for medical safety in reaction to Covid-19. Yet, in some aspects, the law hasn’t caught up. With the majority of people working from home, an increase in the ability to use remote and digital authentication processes was expected. However, as Elnaggar acknowledges, outdated laws and archaic systems mean that the increase in approving digital authentication processes are not quite as simple.

Saadati’s article, Has trade finance pulled the plug on correspondent banking? outlines the challenges that emerging markets face with correspondent banking, especially in Africa. Correspondent banking, like each aspect of trade, needs to be carefully set up due to effectively combat the trade finance gap. Unfortunately, just like the aftermath of 2009, the post-Covid economy gives rise to banking fears of the ‘derisking’ threat. This insight showcases the broader reality of international finance in terms of the bias towards certain markets dominating. With over half of the world’s trade conducted through US dollars, banks across the globe who do not provide cash-clearing services are struggling to achieve their transactions.

Reflecting on how the ITPP shaped his approach, Mathieu said:I am so grateful for the free LIBF training which led me to be certified as CTFC. Regardless if you are old or new to Trade Finance, the ITPP cohort is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. It provided me with a fresh approach as well as being able to share information in the simplest manner possible.”

Africa was also the focus by Akinbobola Olukayode Olugbemi, in his fascinating article Rejigging Africa’s trade position post COVID19: The AfCFTA option. Despite the bleak analysis, both authors share a positive trajectory for improvements in African trade. Whether it’s due to global fintech and blockchain efforts according to Saadati, or through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) and other such trade agreements as Olugmeni postulates, the next 5-10 years could be wonderfully transformative for Africa. This new era, whereby Africa will be able to create trade, could lead to increased intra-African imports, as opposed to their ongoing reliance from the rest of the world. Since Olugmeni’s article was published last year, trading under the AfCFTA officially began (1st January 2021). This is a historic milestone for Africa. An incredibly empowering step for African trade, which again highlights the importance and impact of trade, permeating through every aspect of life. If trade is executed correctly, then businesses can grow in an inclusive and sustainable fashion.

Just as global issues gain greater awareness and exposure through the research of the ITTP cohort, so too do the individuals themselves. As Olugbemi explains; “The exposure within the industry is simply invaluable and with that, the ability to connect to other professionals across the world. It gives you a real exposure to international trade and helps put your profile out there. The ITPP was an amazing process of self discovery and provided a real opportunity to learn so much about African Trade. It truly motivated me to get involved in arguments and discussions; pushing me further to engage.”

This motivation and engagement as expressed by Olugmeni is testament to the nature of the ITPP and those involved, from the professionals themselves through to the TFG editorial team. Lungi Mchunu, also focused on her passion, bringing together her love for trade finance and climate change in a highly pertinent piece. Her article ‘Structured Commodity Finance (Agri) – How do you think green when your numbers are red?’ astutely voices the imbalance between the numerous risks facing farmers and their value share, resulting in huge financial loss. 

In the unprecedented events of last year, the pandemic helped shed light to the good, the bad and the ugly. The unnatural inequality and the natural beauty. In addition, various documentaries raised awareness on the fragile relationship between humans and the world, such as Attenborough’s A Life On Our Planet or Seaspiracy. Be it climate change, farming, pollution or fishing – everything is connected. Sustainability and all things ‘green’ may be the buzzwords of modern times, but more than that, they reveal how trade is truly the pulse of life. In the most basic of forms, trade is inextricably linked to everything we do. It is because of this, that the importance in addressing global challenges together, is paramount. 

As Mchunu explained; “ITPP has helped me redefine my personal legacy by merging my passion for trade finance, sailing, polar research and climate change which is much more than I expected. Trade Finance is key to global economic growth post the pandemic, we need all hands on deck for innovative yet sustainable solutions going forward.”

Not only does the ITPP bring together a network of professionals from around the world, but it also helps to raise international issues and through this identify common barriers. Netflix’s Kiss the Ground: Regenerative Agriculture was released in September 2020, 3 months after Mchunu’s topical article. Her research identified regenerative farming as the solution for South African farming challenges. This shows how understanding the complexities of trade finance is not just on trend, but setting the trend and as ever at the forefront of truly understanding the world. This knowledge should not be reserved for financiers or businesses, but for everyone – reflecting our ethos in democratizing trade finance to remove barriers to access and understanding. 

Fragkoulis Kakaris also wrote from his passion with regards to exploring financial problems. In his article entitled, OBOR – Why macroeconomic policies are needed to drive China – EU supply chains, Kakaris relayed the complexity of the project. China’s economically ambitious One Belt One Road or BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) created by President Xi Jinping is deemed to be the “Project of the Century” by the Chinese authorities. In this piece, Kakaris shows the interwoven geographical, economic, social, cultural and political nuances of trade finance.  

Kakaris reflects; “The best part of ITPP is being a part of a big community with a common interest in International Trade, which otherwise I would never have been introduced to. You will be part of discussions that you would never have the chance to be part of. It is magic to share opinions around the globe with respect and professionalism. The ITPP is a fantastic challenge and journey. I strongly recommend it to everyone who is interested in this field.”

TFG would like to thank each professional again for all their enthusiasm, hard work and curiosity as part of the ITPP. It was fantastic to have  worked with you all and we look forward to future collaborations. Wishing the 2020 Cohort – the first graduates of the International Trade Professionals Programme -all the best!

Find out more information about ITPP and we will keep you posted on when ITPP 2021 opens!