How I am leveraging my education and experience for trade impact


Craig Atkinson Helping Developing Nations Grow

Craig Atkinson Helping Developing Nations Grow

I first became interested in trade during my time at business school in the Netherlands. The experience opened my eyes to many of the non-tariff barriers that enterprises face in reaching export markets and how businesses from a “small country” can actively participate in international trade.

My time in the Netherlands inspired me to dedicate my career to promoting international trade.

The road to working in the UN system, and for the International Trade Centre specifically, was the result of a move from the private sector to employment with two national governments.

Although I enjoyed my employment experiences with both SMEs and larger enterprises, I have always been interested in what makes for a strong, domestic, “enabling environment” for businesses and how to effectively promote trade.

I therefore began my career in trade promotion with the Australian Trade Commission in 2007, and subsequently worked for the Canadian government in 2010.

The motivation to assist enterprises in developing economies

Craig Atkinson United Nations
United Nations, Geneva

During my early work in trade promotion I witnessed the important connection between business success and the level of international trading activity of SMEs in developed countries (particularly in Canada, given its small domestic population and the likelihood of market saturation).

I realized that, in many cases, these   enterprises have significant advantages, including highly developed infrastructure, less ambiguous regulatory requirements, and established trade support institutions.

This realization motivated me to work on behalf of developing country sectors to increase their competitiveness, especially producers in WTO member states that are highly exposed to the exports of developed countries.

Trade promotion organizations play a vital part in trade development

Some developed countries are fortunate to have highly successful trade promotion organizations.

I believe Canada’s federal trade-bodies, Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Trade Commissioner Service (TCS), have benefited significantly from FITT’s role as a training partner.

Unlike purely academic programs, the FITT program gives students practical information on the different aspects of exporting (e.g. trade finance, marketing, etc.). Although trade theory is important, and forms most of the legal bases for the rules of trade, being able to navigate and comply with export requirements is an essential skill.

On the multilateral level, United Nations agencies like ITC are important to improving the capacity of developing country exporters to trade internationally. This led me to ITC.

The team at ITC responsible for value chain development, in both product and services sectors, has been actively compiling the needs expressed by project beneficiaries for over a decade.

A number of colleagues and I have been analysing this large body of qualitative information to gain better insight into what the most common needs are in different sectors and regions.

Using a content analysis methodology, we were able to quantify these needs, and we intend to publish our initial results on the ITC website in the coming months.

Understanding a complex development challenge

Craig Atkinson at the International Trade Centre
Craig Atkinson at the International Trade Centre

Throughout my career, I’ve realized that with both general and specific education comes another challenge: engaging with audiences that expect simple answers to complex problems. My thesis represents an extension of my work at ITC. I’ve always been interested in the role of technology and innovation for development.

In my thesis, I am examining the impact of donor programs for “appropriate technology” transfer. In particular, I am looking at the transfer of small-scale peanut processing technology to communities in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

In the 1970’s, SSA had approximately 90% of the global market share for peanuts. Today, this market share has fallen to about 5%. The fall in peanut exports can be partially attributed to developed country import bans on food contaminated with aflatoxin, a carcinogenic chemical produced by mould growth as a result of moisture and humidity. Some of the moisture related issues have to due with manual shelling activities.

Improved processing may enable these producer countries to reclaim some of their world market share, and also improve national public health.

I believe my thesis topic addresses an important area at the apex of technology, trade and development.

I intend to continue to work in my thesis area, agri-food sector development within the UN/WTO system, but also to expand my consulting business further. I’m also pursuing more “entrepreneurial activities” in the IT, clean tech, and agricultural technology spaces.

International trade is a field of continuous learning

Craig Atkinson University of Saskatchewan
Craig’s Alma Mater, University of Saskatchewan

One of the biggest challenges in my career has been the continuous learning required to understand the multifaceted nature of international trade. After completing the course-based Master of International Trade from the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan, I continued to work.

Even after completing a Master’s, I wanted to explore a specific area in greater depth. This led me to pursue a second, thesis-based, master’s degree with a specialization in international development. Given the strength of the University of Saskatchewan in all disciplines related to agriculture, I applied to a thesis-based Master of Arts program.

Upon acceptance, I was offered a graduate fellowship with the faculty of Political Studies. The fellowship entailed completing research for the faculty, grading the work of undergraduates, and other responsibilities. I also won several graduate awards that will contribute toward funding my fieldwork.

Completing my first master’s degree, earning my CITP designation in 2013, and, more recently, receiving a graduate fellowship have been among my proudest achievements in my educational career.

The ‘VALUE’ of a designation

Being a CITP has given me practical knowledge and skills related to trade. I’ve heard people mention certifications in any field as “not adding any value” in helping them “sell themselves”.

In my opinion, the value of a professional designation lies not in the paper received as a means to “get a job”, but as a way that your knowledge can be recognized by fellow professionals.

That being said, it has been good to see the designation included in position advertisements with federal government agencies involved in trade and export development.

I have also had the opportunity to connect with other international trade professionals through the FITT community by being featured in an article on and participating as a panellist in #TradeElite Twitter chats.

I am excited to continue to be active in the FITT community, participating in Twitter chats, as either a host or panelist, and look forward to networking with my fellow professionals in the future.

 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Craig Atkinson, CITP

Craig Atkinson is the Founder and Director of Lexmerca International Trade and a Trade Development Specialist with the International Trade Centre (ITC), the joint agency of the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Active in the field of digital trade, Craig participates in projects with multiple international organizations, academic institutions, technology foundations, and standards bodies. Academically, he is a Non-Resident Fellow with the World Trade Institute (WTI) as well as a Research Affiliate with the Singapore Management University (SMU) Centre for AI and Data Governance and the SMU Centre for Computational Law. Professionally, Craig has been a FITT Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) since 2011.

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