Director-General Roberto Azevêdo attended a workshop today (21 June) on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), focused on enhancing their participation in international trade. The event was organized by the permanent missions of the Philippines, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore and Thailand, supported by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The discussion focused on the specific barriers that MSMEs face in the global trading system and what steps could be taken to lower those barriers.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said:

“This is a very important issue. MSMEs are responsible for the largest share of employment opportunities in most economies — up to 90% in some countries — and they are big employers of women and young people. At the domestic level MSMEs have major economic importance, but their participation in trade simply doesn’t match up. This is true in both developing and developed countries. So it seems that we may be missing a significant opportunity.

“A truly inclusive trading system offering MSMEs a chance to develop their potential could help to transform many lives around the world. This would mean tackling the barriers that MSMEs face when participating in trade — and the smaller the business, the bigger the barriers can seem.

“It would be useful to establish a detailed sense of what the major barriers and priorities are for MSMEs, and what we can potentially do to help. This could be through Aid for Trade support, through the regular work of the WTO, through negotiating new trade agreements, or a whole range of other avenues. I hope that this meeting will be an important moment in answering these questions and identifying concrete steps that members could potentially take in response.”

The event was chaired by Ambassador Esteban Conejos of the Philippines, and heard presentations from a number of experts in the field, including: Nora K. Terrado, Vice-Minister of Trade and Industry in the Philippines; Arancha González, Executive Director of the ITC; Alejandro Jara, Senior Counsel at King and Spalding LLP; Hafsah Hashim, Chief Executive Officer of the SME Corporation Malaysia; and Carlos Grau Tanner, Director-General of the Global Express Association. The presentations were followed by a discussion with WTO members.

DG Azevêdo’s full speech is available here.