Small business development officials from the 21 APEC economies are breaking new ground in efforts to bridge gaps in access and use of digital technologies, intent on harnessing undertapped trade and growth within the sector.
Officials fleshed out measures for lowering barriers to micro, small and medium enterprise participation in the digital space during technical discussions with the private sector that just concluded in Ho Chi Minh City—Viet Nam’s commercial capital.
Trade Ministers from the APEC region will take the next step when they convene in Arequipa, Peru on 17-18 May to bolster trade and growth. They will also draw on a preceding cluster of technical working group exchanges that commences there this week and whose agenda includes facilitating small business development and digital trade.
“We see great potential for the integration of small businesses into the digital economy as a driver of growth and continued improvements in living standards,” said Dang Huy Dong, Viet Nam’s Vice Minister of Planning and Investment.
“Our focus is on making it easier and faster to start and develop a business through the application of emerging technologies and data flows,” he explained.
Emphasis is on the establishment of policy conditions in APEC economies that enable small firms to leverage digital tools for product and service development, business model innovation and trade.
Examples range from online marketplaces, social media marketing and customer management systems, to cloud-based communications, instant messaging and funding, recruitment and payroll systems.
“Small businesses that take advantage of the internet are substantially more productive than those that don’t and grow faster and have higher export revenue,” noted John Andersen, Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprise Working Group, which administers regional policy collaboration within the sector.
“Equal access to the digital economy remains a challenge,” added Andersen, who is also United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the Western Hemisphere. “Many firms grapple with connectivity problems and often harbor concerns about security and equipment costs.”
Policy solutions on the table include wider availability of skills training, easing market access and trade restrictions, adopting clear, consistent industry regulation based on international best practices, and expansion of the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules system to ensure seamless, secure data flows.
Representatives from micro, small and medium enterprises and leading technology providers underscored the potential benefits of an inclusive, principle-guided approach towards bridging the digital divide.
In support of this effort, APEC has partnered with Google to launch a mobile phone-based video competition offering people from small businesses as well as aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to explain how they use their device to help develop and grow commercial ideas.
“Building awareness of the economic and social advantages of digital technology can build impetus for policy action needed to put it within arm’s reach for more people,” concluded Andersen.
To participate in the APEC Video Contest, visit www.apec.org/Videocontest2016.aspx. The winning one-minute submission will be awarded a trip to Lima, Peru to meet with CEOs from the Asia-Pacific during the 2016 APEC Economic Leaders’ Week to take place on 14-20 November.
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