Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the engines of growth and innovation in the APEC region. They account for over 97 percent of all business and employ over half of the workforce across APEC economies. They contribute significantly to economic growth, with their share of GDP ranging from 40 percent to 60 percent in most economies. However, they only account for 35 percent or less of direct exports. APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group works to encourage the development of SMEs and to build their capacity to engage in international trade.
First established in February 1995 as the Ad Hoc Policy Level Group on SMEs (PLGSME), the group was renamed the Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) in 2000. The SME Working Group (SMEWG) is the champion within APEC for the inclusive development of sustainable, resilient and innovative SMEs. It is the main forum where APEC economies exchange information, views, best practices and analysis concerning SMEs in the APEC region.
The SMEWG is the champion within APEC for the inclusive development of sustainable, resilient and innovative SMEs. In this group APEC economies exchange information, views, best practices and analysis concerning SMEs in the APEC.
The APEC SME Ministerial Meetings, held annually since 1994, set out the direction for the working group. In September 2020 SME Ministers endorsed the SMEWG Strategic Plan for 2021–2024, which provided a roadmap to address critical issues pertaining to the growth of SMEs and microenterprises in the APEC region.
These priorities are the following:
- Entrepreneurship, innovation, and start-ups
- SME access to international markets and global value chains (GVCs)
- Inclusive capability development towards digitalization
- Access to finance and alternative financial solutions
- Government to business interaction
In addition, the SMEWG will work on implementing the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040, including the third driver of the Aotearoa Plan of Action “Strong, Balanced, Secure, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth.”
In 2021, the SMEWG had two plenary meetings hosted virtually by Canada (18-19 May) and New Zealand (23-24 September).
APEC economies shared information regarding best practices and COVID-19 measures, among other SME-related topics. At the second meeting, the SMEWG endorsed the “APEC Policy Recommendations from the APEC Policy Dialogue: SMEs and Entrepreneurship Framework.”
The 27th APEC SME Ministerial Meeting, virtually hosted by New Zealand, was held virtually on 9 October 2021. At this meeting, Ministers issued the 2021 Ministerial Statement promoting the inclusive development of sustainable, resilient, digitally-enabled and innovative MSMEs to navigating the recovery from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementing the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040.
The 28th APEC SME Ministerial Meeting will be carried out in Thailand in September 2022.
The current active APEC-funded SMEWG projects are the following:
- SME 09 2019A - Public Policy, Fintech and SMEs: Recommendations for Promoting a New Financing Ecosystem
- SME 14 2019A – From Platforms to Payments: Promoting Growth and Innovation for Women Entrepreneurs through E-Commerce
- SME 01 2020A – 2021 Business Ethics for APEC SMEs Forum: Updating APEC Principles to Strengthen the Medical Device and Biopharmaceutical Sectors
- SME 05 2020A – APEC Workshop on Promoting Social Enterprises for Inclusive Growth
- SME 08 2020A – What Comes after SME Digital Transformation? – Measuring Effectiveness of Public Policy and Identifying Trends for the Post-digital Era
- SME 09 2020A – APEC Workshop on Inclusive Business: Charting the Path for Shared Prosperity through Inclusivity
- SME 01 2021A - Ready for the 'Next Normal': How MSMEs should Adapt to an Evolving Market Landscape
- SME 02 2021A - 2022 APEC SME Forum on Promoting Low-Carbon-Driven Industrial Ecosystem for Smart Green Economy
In addition, in 2021 the SMEWG endorsed the following self-funded projects:
- SME 01 2021S – Growing Indigenous Businesses in APEC through Trade
- SME 02 2021S – 2021 APEC SME Digital Economy Development Conference
- SME 03 2021S – SME Mental Health and Wellbeing Workshop
- SME 04 2021S – Women-Owned SME Exporters: Overcoming Obstacles and Succeeding Internationally
- SME 05 2021S – Business Ethics for APEC SMEs Initiative: Government Stakeholder Session
- SME 06 2021S – SMEs in the Asia-Pacific Region: Recovery and Internationalisation—Connecting Research to Policy-Making
- SME 07 2021S – Capacity Building and Technical Assistance to Support Women Entrepreneurs in E-Commerce
- SME 08 2021S – 2021 APEC SME Business Forum
- SME 09 2021S – APEC Cross-Domain Innovation Ecosystem Initiative: Facilitate the Inclusive Growth of SMEs through the Digital Platform Across the APEC Region
- SME 10 2021S – Workshop on Digital Innovation to Enable SMEs' Green Development