Helping SMEs Fully Realise the Benefits of Free Trade Stories

25 March, 2021

Cowater International has been engaged extensively in ensuring that the benefits of economic development and free trade are accessible to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), including through fast growing e-commerce channels. We implement three large technical assistance initiatives – the Canadian Trade and Investment Facility for Development (CTIF), and the Expert Deployment Mechanism for Trade and Development (EDM) – both funded by Global Affairs Canada –  and the Trade and Advocacy Fund 2+ (TAF2+) funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The three facilities advance inclusive trade and economic development.

CTIF’s work focuses on increasing access to markets and finance for SMEs in the Asia-Pacific region, with a particular emphasis women-led enterprises and provision of project financing up to $500,000.

In Thailand, one of CTIF’s implementing partners, TFO Canada, recently completed its mandate to expand SME access to Canada’s organic agri-foods market. Working primarily with the ASEAN Organics Federation (AOF), which includes member federations from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam, this project aimed to build the capacity of organic producers to export to Canada. Assistance included online training to AOF officials and one-on-one support to 72 SMEs focused on Canadian standards, trends, and opportunities for organic products. SME participants were able to gain a deeper appreciation of these requirements and associated next steps they may undertake to expand their export activities with Canadian buyers. As a result of this project, CTIF’s technical assistance increased the capacity of the AOF to provide services to its members, particularly women-led SMEs, and increased members’ knowledge of both business opportunities in Canada, and the country’s regulatory environment. CTIF’s implementing partner was also able to identify export-ready companies in all four countries of focus.

CTIF implementing partner Niagara College continues its work with Bhutan’s Ser Bhum Brewery, a women-led craft brewery based in Thimpu, which is planning to increase its exports to Canada and other international markets beyond its immediate neighbours. Niagara College’s Brewmasters and brewery operations experts are working with Ser Bhum’s management team and staff to upgrade the brewery’s overall standards, including environmental, health/safety practices, and other aspects, while also providing access to professional development opportunities to women and young people within Bhutan’s brewing industry. By the project’s end in late 2021, this initiative will have increased the capacity of the Ser Bhum Brewery to produce more craft beer, comply with operating policies and procedures for export, and increased their access to new markets.

SerBhum founders Karma Tenzin, Sonam Lhaden and Karma Choeda (Photo: Facebook)

CTIF implementing partner Kisserup International Trade Roots recently began their work with another women-led SME, Leatherina Pvt Ltd., a Bangladesh-based boutique producer of fine leather goods such as handbags that is seeking to expand its access to international markets using e-commerce platforms. Leatherina was selected as a recipient of technical support through a CTIF Request for Applications initiative designed to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small enterprises and help them become more resilient to future crises. Kisserup International Trade Roots will work with Leatherina’s management and staff to enhance the company’s e-commerce site, develop an e-commerce and digital marketing plan, and recommend ways to gain better access to North American markets.

Cowater International’s EDM project is taking similar approaches to increasing economic opportunities for SMEs. EDM invests significant effort in increasing the capacity of partner governments and trade and industry associations to expand SME access to export-oriented opportunities and take advantage of free trade agreements (FTAs) between Canada and their home country. EDM prioritizes applications benefitting SMEs led by women, Indigenous peoples, or other under-represented groups.

In Vietnam, for example, Canadian experts deployed by EDM have supported Vietnam’s trade promotion agency, VIETRADE, to design tools to strengthen the organisation’s capacity to deliver export development services and help Vietnamese businesses access the benefits of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). This included advising on the design of a new client relationship management system and the creation of a database of trade promotion organisations in CPTPP countries.

At the request of Colombian counterparts, EDM is supporting the implementation and promotion of the Canada-Colombia FTA (CCOFTA), including provisions related to electronic commerce, rules of origin, creative industries, public procurement, labour, and environmental protection. For instance, EDM experts are working with Colombian officials to increase private sector awareness of the obligations and opportunities created by the e-commerce chapter of the CCOFTA. EDM’s experts are also working with the Department of Huila, a regional government, to design and deliver training courses to Huila’s agricultural producer associations and SMEs. One course will concentrate on the CCOFTA’s agricultural market access provisions, while the second will focus more broadly on assisting SMEs with their export development efforts.

Under TAF2+, Cowater International is working through the World Trade Organisation to engage member states in assisting MSMEs to play a more active role in international trade. Through Cowater International’s partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), TAF2+ is supporting countries with grants to access knowledge, resources and best practices on MSMEs and e-commerce. The project supported the development of three knowledge products that explored investment facilitation, electronic commerce and MSMEs, and supported dissemination of knowledge around ways to address challenges and opportunities in the three areas in trade negotiations.

Finally, in partnership with the WTO Secretariat, and the delegations of Mexico and Uruguay to the WTO, TAF2+ is developing a MSME web platform to aggregate and curate training materials, studies, policy documents, statistics, databases, in English, French and Spanish, to help MSMEs address the challenge of accessing various sources through a centralised database.

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