The "e-APEC Strategy for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)" has been endorsed by APEC SME Ministers at their meeting today in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Prepared by Korea, the strategy identifies a number of difficulties confronting SMEs attempting to digitize operations and provides a series of solutions to be implemented at a local level by Member Economies.
The Strategy was first presented to the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) on Wednesday and has now been formally accepted by the Ministers.
The e-APEC Strategy specifically for SMEs developed by Korea was created in line with the general e-APEC strategy that was endorsed by APEC Leaders in Shanghai in 2001. This original strategy was intended to develop the policy initiatives and specific goals and actions to facilitate greater access to the digital economy in the APEC region.
SMEWG Chair, Mr. Vivat Vinicchakul, said the e-Strategy for SMEs provides a range of forward thinking measures that will be localized and implemented by APEC Member economies.
"All APEC Members have strong SME sectors and these businesses have the opportunity to engage more full in the digital economy," said Mr. Vinicchakul.
"Obstacles to greater SME participation in the digital economy are often issues such as the costs of accessing new technology, developing suitable business models that use the Internet to the advantage of the SME or even just understanding the laws governing e-trade.
"This APEC e-APEC Strategy for SMEs draws on Korean experience but has the flexibility for implementation in all APEC economies where specific local characteristics can be incorporated into the plan.
"The plan calls of governments to play the role of facilitator to build strategic links with larger businesses and to create the right policy environment for the SME digitization."
The e-APEC Strategy for SMEs presents four policy recommendations for APEC economies that are further expanded on the APEC Secretariat Website:
Expanding Basic Services for Network Utilization
The e-APEC Strategy recognized that the costs are high for small businesses attempting to obtain high-speed data and Internet access if individual businesses are negotiating with larger Internet Service Providers. The strategy suggests that governments play a greater role in bringing SMEs together to increase bargaining power to reduce the individual cost of high-speed access.
In Korea the government organized a suppliers’ consortium of Internet service providers to negotiate with large groups of small businesses who wished to gain access high speed Internet access. Under the "Networking Small Businesses Project" the suppliers’ consortium has provided high-speed Internet access to around 120,000 small businesses in Korea at price based on overall consumer demand. This is significantly less than if the businesses were to negotiate individually for access.
Facilitating Development of Business Models for SMEs
The e-APEC strategies proposed by Korea also call for governments to assist in the development of suitable business models for digitizing SMEs.
These business plans should be designed for specific industries and varying sizes of business operations. Korea is developing sets of business models that can be applied to a range of SMEs e-strategies.
Promoting Partnerships between Businesses and Economies
The e-APEC Strategy urges APEC Economies to establish a "pro-digitization environment" to facilitate low cost access to technology resources that can be used by SMEs to interact and trade in the online world.
Korea has already launched a project for building the "ASEAN+3 Network" that enables exporter SMEs to promote their products online. Other projects that have been identified include other aspects of trade promotion and exchanges of industry information.
Building Framework for Regulation and Education
The e-APEC Strategy calls for clear government policies to establish the educational and legal infrastructure to enable SMEs to expand in the online world.
This includes government assistance in the establishment of training programs for SME operators, to develop appropriate legislation to ensure online security and protection for SMEs and to ensure laws governing e-trading are clear and transparent.
The next step in the implementation of the strategy is for each APEC Member Economy to voluntarily compile a country report on the status of its SME digitization and systems under development. These can then be compared and benchmarked by other economies.
In the implementation of the strategy, the APEC SMEWG will provide ongoing assistance to member economies, share the best practices and assist economies to configure the strategy for local implantation.