Portugal: A Closer Look at Public-Private Partnerships

By Branco, Jose Vieira | International Trade Forum, October-December 2000 | Go to article overview

Portugal: A Closer Look at Public-Private Partnerships


Branco, Jose Vieira, International Trade Forum


Encouraging public-private partnerships is not a luxury. Linking these diverse networks effectively is one of the five keys to effective trade promotion. Portugal's approach provides food for thought.

ICEP Portugal -- Investimento, Comercio e Turismo -- Investments, Trade and Tourism of Portugal -- is the operational arm of Portugal's Ministry of Commerce. The institute is a public service and is financed principally by the state budget. ICEP is charged with Portugal's trade promotion, foreign direct investment (FDI), tourism and brand image.

Distinguishing features

While the area of operations and its financial resources are typical for this sort of public institution, what is specific to ICEP is its involvement in four different areas: trade, investment, tourism and brand image.

The reason for this is historical: the conventional organization for promoting external trade, established in 1949, was merged with the Institute for Foreign Investment in the 1980s. In the 1990s, tourism was also incorporated into the organization. More recently, ICEP was given responsibility for external promotion and Portugal's brand image.

But how can such a model work? Can it function as a whole, setting aside the separate cultures of the various organizations that merged with it?

Integration has been total in all sectors except tourism, where the practices of a separate corporate culture remain. This is coupled with a clear trend in conceiving and promoting the tourism sector in a separate way from the other business areas.

Overseas offices: Towards an integrated approach

The aim is to establish a single address for all of Portugal's external promotion activities. This requires efficient coordination of activities at ICEP offices abroad (dependent on the Ministry of Commerce and heirs to a long tradition of institutional autonomy) with the network of embassies and consulates that fall under the Foreign Ministry.

The challenge facing ICEP is: how to ensure coherent marketing abroad without confusing autonomously sanctioned, technical promotional activities with diplomatic activities?

Once a certain balance between the institutions has been achieved, how can the activities of informal networks, the contributions of sector lobbies, the involvement of chambers of commerce and individual business players be integrated into ICEP's corporate culture?

Clearly, we do not have the answer to all these questions, otherwise ICEP would be the most efficient promotion body in this field.

Relations with the consular and diplomatic network

After many years of parallel efforts -- and as geometry shows, parallel lines never meet -- the parties involved have agreed to a coordination plan. A Foreign Ministry representative is now part of ICEP's board and has been tasked with coordinating the network. This kind of cross-representation allows us to tackle more advanced and integrated tasks.

It has also resulted in an important conclusion: it is absolutely vital that we review our network, its current locations and the tasks of our overseas offices. We are systematically doing so at the moment.

We have started testing various models for covering our markets, using a pilot programme in countries with differing levels of development and varied interests for Portuguese business.

We believe that in less than a year we should see a markedly different approach to external operations. This will comprise a lighter structure that performs well, by making better use of the competencies and merits of both ministries. …

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