Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the engines of growth and innovation in the APEC region. They account for over 97 percent of all businesses 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.
First established in February 1995 as Ad Hoc Policy Level Group on SMEs, the group was renamed Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group (SMEWG) in 2000. The SMEWG primarily works to encourage the development of SMEs and to build their capacity to engage in international trade. It champions 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 region.
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
- Inclusive capability development towards digitalization
- Access to finance and alternative financial solutions
- Government-to-business interaction
In 2022, the strategic plan was updated to integrate the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 and the Aotearoa Plan of Action adopted by APEC economic leaders in November 2020 and 2021, respectively, as annexes to the document.
Last page update: September 2023
The 29th APEC SME Ministerial Meeting was held in Seattle, Washington in the United States on 21 August 2023. The chair issued a statement stressing the commitment to foster quality growth that brings palpable benefits and greater health and well-being to all, including MSMEs. The chair’s statement emphasizes the importance of creating pathways for growth of MSMEs, including empowering them in regional and global markets through access to global value chains and through digital tools and technologies. This includes expanding opportunities for MSMEs owned or led by individuals with untapped economic potential, such as women, Indigenous Peoples as appropriate, persons with disabilities, and those from remote and rural communities.
The 30th APEC SME Ministerial Meeting will take place in Peru, while the 57th and 58th SMEWG meetings will be held in Indonesia and Peru, respectively.
The SMEWG is currently implementing nine APEC-funded projects and endorsed an additional four projects in 2023. The list of SMEWG projects can be found here.