Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the engines of growth and innovation in the APEC region. SMEs account for over 97 percent of all enterprises and employ over half of the workforce across APEC economies. SMEs contribute significantly to economic growth, with SMEs' share of GDP ranging from 20 percent to 50 percent in the majority of APEC economies. However, they only account for 35 percent or less of the direct exports. APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) therefore works to encourage the development of SMEs and to build their capacity to engage in international trade.

The SMEWG works towards the achievement of APEC’s Bogor Goals by fostering an enabling business environment for SMEs to grow and develop into export-ready firms. The APEC SME Ministerial Meetings, held annually since 1994, set out the direction for the Working Group. In August 2012, the SME Ministers endorsed the SMEWG Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 which provided a roadmap to address critical issues pertaining to the growth of SMEs and micro enterprises (MEs) in the APEC region: 

1. Building Management Capability, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

2. Financing

3. Business Environment, Market Access and Internationalization.

The 22nd APEC SME Ministerial Meeting was held on 25 September 2015 in Iloilo City, the Philippines. Under the theme “Mainstreaming Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the Global Economy”, the Ministers discussed ways to: (i) Remove trade barriers to facilitate MSMEs entry to markets; (ii) Advance modernization, and standard and conformance of MSMEs; and (iii) Promote inclusive growth through sustainable and resilient MSMEs. The two important outcome documents of the Meeting are the Statement of Ministers and the Iloilo Initiative.

In 2015, “Fostering SME’s participation in the Regional and Global Markets” was chosen s one of the four priorities to promote Inclusive Growth. Hence, the discussion on micro, small and medium enterprise (MSMEs) have been robust, guided by collective desire to provide MSMEs opportunities to contribute to the region's growth. The APEC Ministers responsible for Trade (MRT) endorsed in May 2015 the “Boracay Action Agenda to Globalize MSMEs”. The APEC Finance Ministers agreed to the Cebu Action Plan which aims, among others, to improving policy frameworks that enable MSMEs to use their transaction records and a broader range of collateral to access loans, and expand trade and supply chain finance. The 2nd Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting also commit to continue work on inclusive, behind-the-border reforms towards a development path that promotes competitiveness, inclusiveness and resilience in the Asia-Pacific region.

Current Activities

The SME Working Group met in June and September this year to discuss its Work Plan, which accommodates the APEC Goals, the Working Group’ s Strategic Plan as well as the focus of the APEC 2015 year hosted by the Philippines. At the Meetings, member economies shared about new and ongoing policies introduced to support the SMEs sectors in their economies, as well as reviewed the implementation of the annual work plan

1. Building Management Capability, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation

Nurturing Start-ups

APEC Start-up Accelerator Initiative, led by Chinese Taipei, is one among successful projects that significantly support the development of start-ups in the APEC regions. The project, on the one hand, offers mentoring and training sessions through the APEC Accelerator Network (AAN) Fora where well-known speakers were invited to provide start-ups with valuable advice and understanding of global business trends. Through live pitching sessions at the annual APEC Challenge, participating start-ups have succeeded in increasing their visibility and, in some cases, securing fund for their businesses. For instance, Gogolook was acquired at USD 18 million. ServTech, one of the six winning startups of the 2014 APEC Challenge, was invited to participate in the Intel Global Challenge in Silicon Valley where it won the first place Innovator Award. In addition, the Accelerator Network Directory, which provides basic information of the 47 AAN members from 15 APEC economies, is a useful reference for SMEs and start-ups when soft landing in new geographic markets.

In 2015, the APEC Accelerator Network continues its meaningful work focusing on early-stage investment. Major activities include two Forums on “From Start-up to Scale-up”, and the APEC Accelerator Network Summit and the APEC Challenge 2015.

APEC Start-up Conferences, led by Peru, is another significant effort of APEC. Since its launch, three conferences have been held annually since 2012. The latest conference Global thinking to make Global Business was organized in Lima, Peru on October 28 – 20, 2014 with over 400 participants attending. At the Conference, international keynote speakers and global corporations shared their valuable and encouraging experiences and views on entrepreneurship, required attitude and skills for entrepreneurs who wish to start a global-market-oriented business, as well as programs for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Start-ups from Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines and Viet Nam were invited to share their initiatives in various industries, including information communications technology, manufacturing, nanotechnology and 3D printed handicrafts.

Improving Natural Disaster Resilience of APEC SMEs

Major effort in this area is the multi-year project on Improving Natural Disaster Resilience of APEC SMEs to Facilitate Trade and Investment, led by Chinese Taipei. The goal of the project is to help SMEs better prepare for natural disasters through business continuity planning. Key deliverables of the project included the Guidebook on Promoting SMEs’ Business Continuity Planning (BCP), a 10-step model to help businesses develop their own business continuity plans. The Guidebook was translated into six languages, enabling accessibility for 40% of the world’s population. The Train-the-Trainer Workshops to promote the BCP Guidebook were customized and conducted in six APEC economies, benefiting local small and medium-sized businesses. For more information on the outcomes and benefits of the SME disaster resilience project, see recent APEC feature article.

Promoting Women Entrepreneurship and Green Business

In addition, SMEWG has implemented activities that promote women entrepreneurship, innovative and green businesses. Some Reports are available as SMEWG Publications.

2. Financing

In 2015, the Philippines, in close collaboration with ABAC and the Asia – Pacific Financial Forum (APFF) organised the one-day SME Finance Forum at the margin of the SME Working Group Meeting in Iloilo City. The Forum was attended by hundreds of SMEs, finance experts, representatives from the academe, industry associations, government, and SMEWG members. The Forum discussed issues, concerns, challenges concerning SMEs’ access to finance, such as inadequate legal and institutional infrastructure in many developing economies. Among the recommendations of the Forum were the strengthening of public and private sector dialogue on addressing access to finance by MSMEs, developing credit information sharing systems, expanding access to finance for MSMEs in the supply chain, developing alternative funding mechanisms for MSMEs and start-ups, and developing best practices for strengthening SMEs’ resilience (e.g, microinsurance and disaster risk finance).

Previous workshops on Financing for SMEs are:

Addressing Impediments for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Micro Enterprises (MEs) to Access Trade Finance

Identifying Government Policies that Promote Venture Capital Investment in APEC Economies

3. Business Environment, Market Access and Internationalization

Mainstreaming MSMEs into the Global Economy

As the theme of the year, SME Working Group and its members have conducted series of activities that practically help MSMEs join the global market. These efforts provides capacity building, technical assistance and cooperation, business matching and networking for both the SMEs themselves as well as the policy makers in the APEC region. One of the major output of the year is the Iloilo Initiative, which is now being undertaken by the joint effort of all member economies. Some other major activities are:

Supply Chain Capacity Building for SMEs: Supply Chain Management, Cold Chain Storage and Technical Regulations

Facilitating SME Trade through Better Understanding of Non-Tariff Measures in the Asia-Pacific Region: Workshop 1 and Workshop 2

APEC SME Business Matching and Internship Consortium for Global Value Chain Integration

Directory of APEC Economy Initiatives currently in place to assist SMEs’ access global markets.

Besides, the APEC Policy Support Unit also published a number of studies on MSMEs:

Integrating SMEs into Global Value Chains: Policy Principles and Best Practices

SME Internationalisation and Measurement

Promoting Business Ethics for SMEs

Since 2011, the multi-year project on SME Business Ethics Capacity Building for SMEs in the Medical Devices, Construction and Bio-Pharmaceutical Sectors has developed codes of ethics, as self-regulate business practices, for the three sectors and established one of the largest ethics mentor networks in the Asia-Pacific region. The project also facilitates regional cooperation that strengthens ethical business practices, with an emphasis on SMEs, by delivering capacity building and sharing best practices; providing a platform to address new and emerging business ethics challenges; and promoting on-going dialogue about the roles of all stakeholders in ensuring an ethical business environment.

Today, as a result of the APEC initiative, there are 27 associations with adopted medical device codes across the APEC region representing 10,800 companies of which 7,800 are SMEs. In the biopharmaceutical sector, there are 46 associations with new codes in 2015 representing 8,800 companies of which 5,600 are SMEs. In sum, the healthcare sector added 33 new associations with codes of ethics in less than one year. The Lighthouse Award, which complements individuals, organizations, or economies that demonstrate leadership in advancing ethical business practices, was given to the Philippines for 2015.

The SMEWG also endorsed:

Nanjing Declaration on Promoting Ethical Environments in the Medical Device and Biopharmaceutical Sectors through 2020

APEC Guide to Implement Multi-Stakeholder Ethical Collaborations in the Medical Device and Biopharmaceutical Sectors

In 2016, APEC SMEWG will continue to expand the scope of business ethics activities by organising the 3rd SME Ethics Forum in Peru. China’s healthcare associations announced that they will self-fund a business ethics meeting for Chinese healthcare stakeholders. For more information on APEC’s accomplishment to develop business ethics for medical device and pharmaceutical SMEs, see recent APEC feature article.


An Integrated Plan of Action for SME Development (SPAN) was developed and endorsed by APEC SME ministers in 1998. The SPAN serves as a set of broad guidelines for SME development in individual economies. It also provides a reference point for review of both individual and collaborative initiatives, programs and regulatory frameworks.

To help SMEs embrace the culture of innovation and maximize the benefits of technology, the Daegu Initiative was launched in 2005. The initiative runs in five year cycles with the objective of improving the economic and policy environments of all member economies to make them more conducive for SME innovation.

The first cycle (2006 - 2010) focus on six areas:

  1. Developing human resources and technology through linkages between industry and educational and research institutions;
  2. Accessing to specialist assistance and advice;
  3. Enhancing availability of capital to innovative SMEs;
  4. Networking and clustering for innovative SMEs;
  5. Establishing appropriate legal and regulatory structures; and
  6. Establishing a market consistent economic environment.

Under this initiative, an APEC SME Innovation Centre has been established in Korea to offer consulting services to small businesses and provide opportunities for economies to share innovation policy experiences.

The Green Initiative is the second cycle of the Daegu Initiative. As part of this initiative, the APEC SME Green Innovation Conference was held in April 2011 in Seoul, Korea that brought together government officials from SME-related and energy ministries and business representatives from innovative SMEs to share ideas and forge greater cooperation.

Since 2011, APEC has helped develop SME business ethics for the medical device and biopharmaceutical sectors. Today, as a result of the APEC initiative, codes of ethics have been adopted and are undergoing implementation by around 60 biopharmaceutical and medical device industry associations and their member companies from 19 economies across the Asia-Pacific, representing more than 14,000 firms. See more on APEC’s achievement in recent APEC feature success story.

The APEC Accelerator Network initiative was launched in 2013 to help Asia-Pacific startups gain access to venture capital funding and business mentoring. In 2014, the APEC Accelerator Network selected six startups from the region to participate in the Intel Global Challenge and the Siemens New Venture Forum in Silicon Valley USA, where they received awards and venture capital funding. See more in a recent APEC feature success story.

In September 2015, the 22nd Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting (SMEMM) was held in Iloilo, the Philippines under the theme “Mainstreaming MSMEs in the Global Economy”. At the meeting, Ministers instructed APEC officials to: 

  • Eliminate barriers, reduce trade-related costs and facilitate trading of MSMEs globally. Promote MSME trade regulatory education, engage MSMEs and ABAC in the development of policy and regulatory environment.
  • Leverage the digital economy to expand internationalization opportunities for MSMEs. Strengthen MSMEs’ participation in local supply and global value chains through long-term, value-driven partnerships between large enterprises and MSMEs.
  • Promote policy, business and regulatory environments that foster the growth potential of MSMEs, in particular globally competitive and innovation-driven MSMEs. Enhance partnerships, linkages, and networking among innovation centers, research communities, and those involving large and small businesses.
  • Facilitates financial inclusion for start-ups. Urge financial institutions to look beyond financial records and consider MSMEs’ overall business plans and potential. Collaborate with public and private institutions in widening access to finance and business resilience.
  • Assist MSMEs’ intellectual property (IP) awareness and protection, develop necessary measures for the effective use of IP assets by MSMEs.
  • Promote MSMEs’ resilience against unexpected events, disasters, financial crises; build a secure and developed digital economy as part of Business Continuity Planning (BCPs).
  • Launch the APEC MSMS Market place and provide a bigger voice to MSME in the APEC process.
  • Integrate the Boracay Acrion Agenda (BAA), the Digital Economy Action Plan and the Iloilo Initiative in the next SMEWG Strategic Plan; put in place a monitoring system.
  • Harness synergies across APEC fora to maximize the benefits of relevant work streams. Task SMEWG to exercise leadership to ensure greater complementation in efforts to address issues that threaten the survival and hinder the growth of MSMEs.
  • Seek approval for permanent status for SMEWG in APEC.


John M. Andersen (Mr)
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Global Markets International Trade Administration
Department of Commerce United States
Xuan Hoa NGHIEM (Mr)
Program Director
APEC Secretariat Email:


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