Call for proactive steps to develop MSMEs

|    Danial Norjidi    |

AS various economies in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) take proactive measures to develop the readiness of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to participate in international trade, Brunei must similarly take lead to develop the pathways for the MSMEs through innovation, capacity building and conducive policies.

This was highlighted in a statement by Bruneian members of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) following the first ABAC meeting of 2019 that took place on March 1-4 in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States (US).

In the statement, ABAC Brunei referred to a recent study commissioned by ABAC and conducted by the University of South California’s Marshall School of Business on realising the untapped potential of MSMEs in APEC. The November 2018 study presents a synthesis of almost 600 in depth interviews with a cross-section of participants in MSME ecosystems in all 21 APEC economies. It also incorporates existing research and recommendations on improving MSME engagement in international trade.

“The study by the Marshall School is an important one for Brunei as it identifies the untapped potential of MSMEs and the barriers that still exist that hinder businesses from engaging in cross border trade,” said ABAC Brunei.

“ABAC recognises the inputs and advocates for economies and businesses to take the action agenda forward as it is clear that there are unprecedented opportunities for MSMEs to engage in cross-border trade. Particularly for Brunei, the report identified that support for cross-border MSMEs, accessibility and efficacy of MSME financing as well as MSME capabilities and competitiveness could be improved while other factors such as openness to foreign MSMEs showcase Brunei’s openness to free trade,” said ABAC Brunei.

At the recent ABAC meeting in Atlanta, ABAC members had the opportunity to engage with various APEC senior officials where discussion centred on the internationalisation of MSMEs, which is underpinned by a strong agenda for the diversification of trade across APEC economies.

“Therefore, as various economies in APEC are taking proactive measures to develop readiness of MSMEs to participate in international trade, Brunei must similarly take lead to develop the pathways for the development of MSMEs through innovation, capacity building and conducive policies,” added ABAC Brunei.

The ABAC was created by APEC leaders in 1995 to be the primary voice of business in APEC, with each economy having three members.

The ABAC meets four times a year in preparation for the presentation of their recommendations to the leaders.

Following the meeting in Atlanta, ABAC issued a press release stating that senior Asia-Pacific business leaders who attended the meeting highlighted the substantial potential for the digital economy to drive inclusive and sustainable growth, but added that this will only be delivered with effective and imaginative policies that properly engage the private sector.

It was shared that members of the ABAC have focussed on the transformative role of the digital economy and its capacity to deliver growth and global engagement, including for small firms, women, those in remote communities and others who might otherwise struggle to participate.

The press release includes comments by ABAC Chair Richard von Appen of Chile, who said that policymakers need to be creative and determined, and work speedily to enable these gains to emerge.

“The opportunities and challenges of going digital have often outpaced policy making over the last few years, leading to suboptimal outcomes for businesses and the communities they serve. APEC’s unique structure – allowing for conversation, experimentation and capacity-building – can be a key contributor to better outcomes,” said von Appen.

“It is no surprise that APEC economies have been at the forefront of global growth over the last decade because those economies have embraced more open markets and deepening economic integration, underpinned by the global rules-based framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This has raised living standards and helped generate a real sense of dynamism and opportunity,” he continued. “Now the same level of dynamism and creativity should be applied to new digital opportunities.”

The press release noted that, while determined to leverage the benefits of the digital age, ABAC members also expressed their concern at recent reports that trade was now at its weakest level since 2010, with protectionist trade restrictions sharply on the rise. They called for determination, engagement and unity to deliver on the promise of sustainable and inclusive growth.

The ABAC Chair urged economies to engage constructively, saying, “It is clear that the WTO system is not perfect. We need to reform it and update the rules to reflect 21st-century business models. But we should continue to support the system itself. Trade, underpinned by the WTO, brings benefit to billions of consumers and workers, creating new opportunities.”

He affirmed that ABAC was focussed on developing practical approaches to help make trade work for everyone, including small businesses and women.

Sharing an example, he said that ABAC had developed a set of WTO-consistent principles to tackle non-tariff barriers – ideas that were subsequently taken up by APEC Ministers last November – and was exploring how APEC economies could fully leverage the benefits of the digital economy, services trade, infrastructure investment and other issues.

“Our vision is for a dynamic, resilient, seamless, sustainable and inclusive Asia-Pacific, in which equity, non-discrimination, fair competition and sustainability are the order of the day,” he said.

“APEC accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s economy. Let us – big and small economies alike – show the way to global prosperity, especially for the poor and disadvantaged.

“Our meetings with APEC senior officials here in Atlanta have showed that there is much that unites us. We must build on that. We need to work together in tackling inequality and giving equal opportunities by enabling more people through infrastructure and training into the digital economy.

“Absolute determination and constructive engagement must be our operating principles,” he added.