US-funded workshops prepare SMEs for ASEAN integration
CEBU CITY -- A US-funded program to prepare small and medium enterprises (SMEs) for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Community is expected to cover all 10 Southeast Asian countries by the end of this year, officials said.
As of last week, the US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs has reached about 1,700 SMEs through workshops with one-on-one mentoring sessions across the region.
Among the 10 member countries of the ASEAN, only Brunei Darussalam has not been covered, said Mario Masaya, SME manager of advocacy group US-ASEAN Business Council, Inc. (US-ABC). A workshop was held here last week while advanced training sessions are scheduled to be held in Manila and Vietnam.
Mr. Masaya, who coordinates SME initiatives for the council from his Jakarta office, said the group will hold a workshop in Brunei before the end of this year. Other ASEAN member countries are Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
“We hope to cover all 10 ASEAN countries by the end of the year. We are also preparing to establish an online ASEAN academy and we will put resource materials online. We will also give advanced training to specific sectors,” he said in a press conference at the sidelines of the workshop here last week.
The program, implemented through a partnership between the council and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), allows 150 American member companies of the US- ABC to help local SMEs improve strategies to take advantage of opportunities in the regional economy and become part of a global supply chain.
At the workshop in Cebu, representatives of MasterCard, Microsoft Philippines, PwC Philippines, and United Parcel Service shared their best practices with about 200 SMEs.
Gerald Sun, vice- president and head of sales of MasterCard Worldwide, said SMEs can improve their bottom line by leveraging digital payments.
“MasterCard believes that knowledge and information sharing with the local SMEs on the benefits and usage of electronic payments will help grow their market, win consumers and improve business competitiveness,” MasterCard Philippines Country Manager Jose Rene L. Villa-Real said in a statement.
Elizabeth Magsaysay- Crebassa, Philippine senior country representative of the council, said the SME training program was initiated in 2011 as a response to the ASEAN economic ministers’ request. This was expanded in 2014 through an alliance with the USAID.
“The SMEs are considered potential customers, suppliers and future partners. It really is in the interest of everybody to see the success of an investment atmosphere pushing SME development and success,” she said.
The US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs, launched in March last year, mobilizes the resources of major US companies and USAID to help ASEAN SMEs become more competitive in domestic markets and support high-performance SMEs become world-class suppliers in the global value chain.
Asteria C. Caberte, regional director of the Department of Trade and Industry, welcomed the alliance’s initiatives.
“This is a great leap for us, especially that there are a lot of low- hanging fruit that are waiting to be picked. This is a very good venue for sharing of best practices,” she added.
The ASEAN Economic Community aims to establish a single market and production base with free movement of goods, services and investments across the 10 ASEAN member countries by the end of this year. Tariffs on 99.6% of products traded within the region have already been eliminated.
The ASEAN market, with an estimated 650 million consumers, is seen to become the fourth largest bloc, after China, India and the European Economic Community.Source: Business World Online(Marites S. Villamor)