ITC launches 15-point plan to help small businesses survive the pandemic
The International Trade Centre has released a comprehensive 15-point action plan in response to the unprecedented economic challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is posing to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in developing countries.
Entrepreneurs, governments, business support organizations and international organizations must take specific measures to survive the effects of the ‘great lockdown’ imposed in the wake of the pandemic in the first months of 2020.
‘Using the information from our data, our analysis and our own COVID-19 related work in the field, we have developed an Action Plan that can serve our partners as a compass through these difficult times,’ ITC acting Executive Director Dorothy Tembo said.
‘This 15-point Action Plan speaks to MSMEs, business support organizations and governments and serves to support these actors in their efforts to help MSMEs through the crisis. The Action Plan also contains guidance on how to ensure that MSMEs are at the forefront of generating resilience, inclusiveness, sustainability and growth in a future new normal,’ Ms. Tembo said.
ITC based its 15-Point Action Plan for Recovery and Resilience on consultations with its partners and findings of targeted business surveys. Ms. Tembo launched the plan at a virtual briefing on 20 May 2020, attended by almost 200 participants.
All in it together
Marion Jansen, Director, ITC’s chief economist and director of its Division of Market Development, explained that the 15 points divided into three groups of five recommendations for each stakeholder group: businesses, governments and business support institutions.
‘We are convinced that ways of doing business will change permanently,’ she said. She added that ‘the buzzword of the future is likely to be resilience – this is not the first shock of the 21st century, and it will not be the last.’
Freda Obeng-Ampofo, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Kaeme, a Ghanaian cosmetic company specializing in premium quality shea butter and liquid black soap, gave her perspective as a business owner navigating the crisis.
‘Accra was locked down in mid-March, but Kaeme decided to keep paying its staff. But deliveries were impossible, there was zero income, while fixed costs needed paying. Many crucial decisions were put on hold because nothing was moving across the globe,’ Ms. Obeng-Ampofo said.
‘We have found different ways to engage with our customers - with social media and even calling them up to say, “Hey, we know these are difficult times, but we are all in this together.” We have also had to think quickly about diversifying our product range – even thinking about making hand sanitizer. We had big plans for 2020, but that’s on hold. Instead, we are operating on a really lean budget.’
José Luis Cancela, Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the World Trade Organization and general coordinator of the WTO’s informal working group on MSMEs, congratulated the ITC on its 15-point plan.
He said that the best way for governments to help MSMEs was to resist the allure of protectionism, as seen in the 15-point plan. He also noted that access to trade finance was paramount, and the trade finance gap – already significant before the pandemic – could increase.
Accelerating the digitalization trade finance processes and reducing the number of people, particularly women and young people who remain ‘unbanked,’ was a must, Ambassador Cancela said.
‘Building MSME resilience is critical for the future – they can longer fall to the bottom of the list of priorities for healthy trade,’ Ambassador Cancela added.
Vincent Subilia, director-general of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services, thanked ITC for its ‘outstanding’ work on the 15-point plan.
He said that business support organizations like the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Services had never been so active. At times of crisis, these entities proved their added value with practical actions and as the ‘hyphen’ between the public and private sectors.
Ms. Tembo concluded the presentation by saying that practical solutions were now at a premium.
She added that since the scale and depth of the economic consequences of the pandemic have emerged, ITC has refocused its efforts on recovery and resilience of MSMEs in developing countries with a raft of results-oriented interventions, including the 15-point plan.