10/11/2006 - Participants at a two-day OECD-APEC conference in Athens agreed that governments should play a more active role in helping small and medium-sized firms trying to expand abroad and provide training in key areas such as marketing and intellectual property.
Participants at the OECD-APEC Global Conference on Removing Barriers to SME Access to International Markets on 6 - 8 November 2006 also called for the development of better data and statistical information both on international markets and on the numbers of SMEs that regularly access international markets.
Increasingly, SMEs are seeing participation in international markets as critical to their survival, job creation and growth. Already SMEs are significant contributors to the global economy accounting for approximately 50% of local and national GDP, 30% of export and 10% of FDI. Governments recognise that SMEs' contribution to economic growth and social cohesion could be enhanced by increasing the level of SME participation to the international economy. SMEs face many challenges when looking for business in other countries. These range from different business regulations and customs procedures to dealing with finding up to date and reliable information on potential market opportunities and getting access to the extra capital needed to fund such expansion.
More than 60 economies were represented at the OECD-APEC conference. Participants endorsed the Athens Action Plan for Removing Barriers to SME Access to International Markets. "The adoption of the Athens Action Plan was a major achievement of the conference, as it calls governments to engage in the systematic removal of barriers to SME internationalisation and the OECD and APEC to provide them with the statistical and analytical support for designing, implementing and evaluating policies", said Mme Marie-Florence Estimé, Deputy-Director of the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development.
The Athens Action Plan recommends governments to establish evaluation frameworks for their programmes and constantly keep under review the support schemes they provide for SMEs about to or already engaged in internationalisation. The research carried out by the OECD and APEC for this conference suggests that in undertaking such reviews, governments could consider: sustaining current programmes addressing those barriers identified as important by both governments and SMEs; reconsidering those programmes aimed at addressing barriers which are reported as important by governments but of little importance by SMEs; and, increasing levels of support to address barriers reported as important by SMEs but of little importance by governments.
In support of a proposal made by Mr. Dimitris Sioufas, Minister of Development for Greece, to the OECD for promoting co-operation between multinational enterprises (MNEs) and SMEs, the Business and Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD (BIAC) launched a private sector initiative to facilitate SME access to international markets. The main tool of this initiative concerns the creation of an SME Web Portal to improve information flows to SMEs and provide a platform for possible cooperation between MNEs and SMEs.