USABC-hosted Panel: ASEAN Competitiveness and the Role of SMEs

Thank you for the introduction.  And thanks to the US-ASEAN Business Council, Proctor & Gamble and eBay for hosting this session.

Fellow Panelists, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored to kick off this discussion today.

We all know the value of providing opportunities for SMEs to participate fully in the integrated economy. These businesses make up the bulk of employment in all of our countries. And helping SMEs join regional and global markets makes sense.

Research shows that SMEs that export grow faster, add more jobs, and pay better wages than firms in the same sector that serve purely domestic markets. That is why ASEAN has wisely made SME development a priority in the ASEAN Economic Community.

The heads of ASEAN’s SME promotion agencies are working right now on a new 10-year strategy for SME development. SMEs are also increasingly important vehicles for women’s economic empowerment.  For that reason, I’d like to invite you all to our launch, tomorrow morning at 9:00am, of the GREAT Women in ASEAN initiative, a regional brand platform that will help women entrepreneurs  make the most of the ASEAN Economic Community.

Though we all know the benefits of SME growth, we also know that SMEs account for only around a third of ASEAN economic output and only a small fraction of that is generated from exports.

To realize this region’s full economic potential, we must do more to connect ASEAN’s small businesses with regional global markets.

The U.S. government is committed to promoting entrepreneurship as one of the most powerful ways to unlock economic potential and lift people out of poverty.

Here in Southeast Asia, working to ensure that small businesses can start, grow and thrive in an integrated ASEAN Economic Community will be critical for the successful creation of a single market and production base,  benefiting both the people of ASEAN and the United States.

That is why we are working to create opportunities for businesses across the region, both through ASEAN-wide initiatives as well as programs in individual ASEAN countries. Small businesses face many of the same issues as large companies.

In our discussions with SMEs, they describe hurdles of regulatory barriers, investment restrictions, intellectual property theft, customs issues, lack of transparency, and the lack of e-commerce policies that harness the commercial potential of the internet.

We are seeking to tackle these issues together with ASEAN governments and in partnership with U.S. and regional businesses.  We have long supported the ASEAN Single Window, which will eliminate Red tape in customs. And we are working with the ASEAN SME Working Group as it strives to create the right policy environment for inclusive business growth.

By investing in sound SME policy, ASEAN Member States are working to ensure that no one will be left behind.

The United States is also committed to supporting ASEANs SMEs through our partnership with the US-ASEAN Business Council through the US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs. Through training and mentoring of high-potential businesses, the Business Alliance is empowering entrepreneurs, promoting job creation and providing opportunity at all levels of society.

Together with 18 USABC Members to date, companies like P&G, eBay, Microsoft, UPS, Citibank, many others, we have trained 3,500 SMEs in all 10 ASEAN countries in needed business skills.

We will be launching an online ASEAN SME Academy later this year to make the high-quality training videos that our large companies use, available on the Internet to all SMEs across ASEAN.

We also helped to launch the ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Network last year and are continuing to support its growth. And just 2 weeks ago, we inked a formal partnership with the ASEAN Business Club, the premier grouping of Southeast Asian business leaders. This partnership will promote serious research into the policies and methods that will best expand financing opportunities for SMEs as the economies in ASEAN continue to integrate.

The ASEAN Business Club members have recognized the role that they can play in expanding these financing options, which is a potential source of revenue for them, but will boost growth for the whole region.

But money is not all that growing businesses need.  SMEs also need access to available innovation and technology that they can apply to their business models.

They need space to take risks, to experiment with new ideas, and new products and services.

We’re hoping to do more with ASEAN to generate and foster innovation, including the best application of science and technology to address regional issues.

We believe there are many bright, young people in this region with good ideas, but without enough avenues in which they can channel them.

We’re delighted that the Chief Economist of the U.S. Small Business Administration has made the trip to be here with us for this conference.

And he will have the opportunity to meet with Dato’ Hashim and the other ASEAN SME promotion agencies tomorrow.

I am sure he will share further information on how we are tackling these challenges for U.S. SMEs. This is an exciting time for this region with amazing opportunities for economic growth.

Empowered SMEs will take the region into a new level of economic development.  We look forward to continuing to work closely with all of you and to being a part of ASEAN’s future.