TAF2+ sponsored a workshop on 7 March 2019 at the Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva to enhance understanding of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) issues and take a closer look at their relationship to the WTO. The workshop was designed to unpack the MSMEs agenda in the WTO; examine the challenges faced by MSMEs seeking to internationalise, informed by private sector perspectives; facilitate the sharing of experiences and identification of best practices to support MSMEs; and develop forward-looking recommendations.
The meeting brought together 18 WTO delegates, as well as experts and MSME representatives, and was facilitated by Ambassador José Luis Cancela of Uruguay, chair of the WTO MSMEs informal working group. The workshop began with an introduction to TAF2+ by Tom Pengelly, Strategy and Results Director, and opening remarks by Alicia Greenidge, the Event Director.
The opening session considered obstacles to MSME participation in world trade, tackling underdeveloped skills, lack of knowledge about international markets, cumbersome border procedures, and limited access to finance. These potential barriers were considered in relation to broader trends and patterns, including the impacts of the digital divide. New technology can be a powerful factor of economic development, opening doors for MSMEs to information systems so that they might move ahead and compete. Yet while MSMEs in developed countries are able to benefit from e-commerce to penetrate global value chains and access new markets, developing countries often face challenges in adapting themselves to the digital economy.
At the firm level, panellists highlighted awareness of the potential value of e-commerce to reach out to global markets as the first point of entry in access to digital trade. Next, relevant skills, including basic literacy, ICT skills, language skills, business savvy, and social skills need to be fostered in order to build visibility in target markets, often more important online than with a traditional physical commercial presence. Finally, panellists emphasised the importance of addressing poor local and regional physical infrastructure and establishing legal and regulatory frameworks that are conducive to MSME development.
From the floor, participants shared their priorities and national experiences in supporting MSMEs. The session closed with proposals to guide future WTO work. Panellists recommended applying a MSME lens to existing WTO agreements and frameworks, considering their implications at the MSME level, as well as overlaps with ongoing discussions in other WTO committees. Furthermore, the need to forge a feedback loop with small businesses was emphasised in order to create policy that helps them thrive. Finally, panellists underlined the importance of collecting data, sharing country experiences, and gathering best practices to build a history of what works.