APEC member economies must work together to promote and encourage the transition of the region’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the emerging digital economy, urged Malaysia’s Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, Dato Sri Dr. Haji Wan Junaidi Bin Tuanku Jaafar.
“Going digital is not an option, it has to be done. It is a necessity to survive,” he said in his opening remarks of the APEC 26th Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting held virtually on Friday.
APEC ministers in charge of small and medium enterprise policy exchanged views to address the severe economic impact of the pandemic to MSMEs and detailed steps to build more resilient, inclusive and sustainable environment for the sector.
MSMEs play a significant role in the region’s economic growth, contributing around 40 to 60 percent to the growth domestic products of most APEC economies. As a response to the pandemic, APEC members have been providing support measures for the sector ranging from tax reliefs, wage subsidies, interest rates reduction, soft loans and refinancing, so that business owners and managers can sustain their operations and continue to contribute to the global economy.
“In the new normal, businesses must pivot their strategies and business models to adapt to the digital economy and incorporate innovation and technology in order to remain resilient,” he added. “Besides all the fiscal stimulus, it is equally imperative to support MSMEs to go digital while helping them to adjust and overcome the challenges.”
He cautioned members of the multi-faceted challenges and concerns of going digital, including data privacy, cybersecurity, digital fraud and the digital divide. He highlighted the importance of strengthening cooperation and collaboration within APEC member economies “during and beyond this pandemic.”
APEC has been consistent in acknowledging the significant contribution MSMEs give to the region’s economy and employment. In her remarks at the meeting, Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, highlighted that policy work undertaken by other APEC groups can contribute to helping MSMEs in the region.
“Support for MSMEs in APEC is cross-cutting and requires close partnership within our fora and the private sector,” she said. “We need to advance progress in structural reforms, trade facilitation and digital initiatives such as the single window implementation to make it easier, faster and cheaper to do business in the region and to ensure seamless flow of good and services within economies and across the borders.”
During the meeting, ministers endorsed a joint statement focusing on member economies’ commitment to support MSMEs in restarting and reviving their businesses through digitalization, innovation and technology.
Ministers also endorsed a new five-year vision to reinforce business ethics and integrity in health-related sectors called Vision 2025 launched earlier this month at the 2020 APEC Business Ethics for SMEs Virtual Forum under the world’s largest ethics pacts to strengthen ethical business practices in the medical device and biopharmaceutical sectors.