Next steps to ease barriers to Asia-Pacific trade are urgently needed to enable businesses to realize their digitally-driven growth potential and ensure the region’s economic momentum, according to APEC officials and the private sector.

The implications are particularly acute for small firms that drive job creation and wages, and which are only beginning to take advantage of the market reach that new technologies allow, agreed delegates during an executive roundtable in Singapore hosted by the Seattle-based National Center for APEC.

Their assessment sets the tone for the year’s first meeting of the APEC Business Advisory Council underway in Auckland, New Zealand through this weekend to generate trade policy recommendations for the APEC member economies.

“There are around 100 million formal small businesses in APEC and roughly five per cent are importing or exporting and another five per cent are involved in trade indirectly via larger companies or supply chains,” said Dr Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat.

“If we are able to break barriers and position more businesses to benefit from regional growth drivers using digital advances, it could be the next revolution,” he added. “That could integrate remote areas, more women in businesses and more informal firms into the new economy.”

There are signs that collaboration between APEC economies and the private sector to open up intellectual property protection, client tracking, marketing, payments and security online is moving things in this direction but that more work lies ahead.

“It’s really amazing how the internet can help to grow your business,” said Nikki Cruz, E-Commerce Operations and Marketing Manager of Snoe Beauty. The eight year old Philippine firm began as a micro enterprise making beauty bars for family and friends and has expanded production to include scrubs, lotions and cleansing conditioners for a widening clientele.

“On social media, we are strengthening our brand and using ads and social content optimization to reach new customers. The problem is, when you market your products, the barriers are there,” she explained. “We receive a lot of inquiries about distributing our products abroad but we cannot say “yes.””

Infrastructure gaps, shipping costs and mismatching standards requirements in areas such as product labelling are compounding digital access and data management challenges for the region’s emerging small businesses.

“There are real opportunity costs for micro, small and medium enterprises which can be cut off – sometimes irrevocably – from the overseas market if they reject an order from a B2B partner,” said Lim May-Ann, Managing Director of tech consultancy TRPC and Executive Director of the Asia Cloud Computing Association.

“The new economy is accelerating but when it comes to nuts and bolts, there are painful issues to overcome,” she concluded. “It is important that APEC move quickly to smooth cross-border trade flows to turn business losses into gains for small firms and inclusive growth in the region.”

The National Center for APEC facilitates private sector engagement in the region and serves as the secretariat to members of the APEC Business Advisory Council from the United States.

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David Hendrickson +65 9137 3886 at drh@apec.org
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