MC12 briefing note

Informal Working Group on Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs)

The Informal Working Group on MSMEs was launched in December 2017 at the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference by 88 WTO members to bring the topic of MSMEs to the WTO in a more comprehensive manner. It has now grown to 94 members, representing around 80% of world exports and 65% of global GDP. The Group is open to the whole WTO membership, with ambitions to become multilateral.

What is the Informal Working Group on MSMEs?

  • The Informal Working Group on MSMEs was launched in December 2017 at the Buenos Aires Ministerial Conference by 88 WTO members to bring the topic of MSMEs to the WTO in a more comprehensive manner. It has now grown to 94 members(1), representing around 80% of world exports and 65% of global GDP. The Group is open to the whole WTO membership with ambitions to become multilateral.
  • As per the Buenos Aires declaration, work focuses on identifying “horizontal and non-discriminatory measures” that can help MSMEs trade internationally and benefit from trade rules through the sharing of good practices and by developing recommendations to help MSMEs trade.
  • The Group works in a spirit of “soft law” through recommendations and guidelines and aims to work through existing WTO bodies to promote concrete tools to help MSMEs trade.
  • As there is no universal definition of MSMEs, the Group leaves it to each member to define who their MSMEs are.

Why an Informal Working Group on MSMEs at the WTO?

  • MSMEs play a critical role in all economies around the globe in terms of employment and economic activity. They represent an estimated 95% of global businesses and 60% of employment across economies of all levels of development. However, their participation in international trade remains limited. Helping MSMEs to trade supports economic development by bringing new opportunities and connections to businesses in developing economies. The approach of the Group is a developmental one.
  • MSMEs have been some of the hardest hit firms in the current pandemic given their prevalence in sectors like retail and tourism. As COVID-19 underscores the importance of MSMEs for peoples' livelihoods and global productivity, it also makes the WTO's support for MSMEs more important than ever.

What are the Group's recommendations and declarations?

The Group has developed a package of six recommendations and declarations (INF/MSME/4/Rev.2) to support MSMEs' participation in international trade within economies at every level of development:

    • MSME-related information in WTO Trade Policy Reviews - The recommendation calls on WTO members to provide, on a voluntary basis, information on policies related to MSMEs during their WTO Trade Policy Reviews to enhance transparency and to be a source of good practices (e.g., number of MSMEs in the economy and their share in international trade or programmes that support MSMEs to trade).
    • Access to information - Members are encouraged to support the Global Trade Helpdesk, a tool led by the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the WTO which can help MSMEs access market intelligence, including on tariffs and regulations.
    • Trade facilitation for MSMEs - Burdensome customs procedures are especially hard on MSMEs. The Group is calling on WTO members to fully implement the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement; to exchange experiences to identify and promote good practices that can help MSMEs; and to consider adopting digital customs procedures to ease these difficulties.
    • Promoting MSME inclusion in regulatory development - New trade regulations can have unintended consequences for businesses, especially for MSMEs. Members are encouraged to analyse potential impacts for smaller businesses and consult with MSMEs before implementing new trade regulations.
    • Supporting implementation of the 2019 Decision on the WTO Integrated Database — The Integrated Database (IDB) is the WTO's official source of tariff and trade-related information. By keeping the IDB up to date, WTO members can help MSMEs access reliable and comprehensive information on tariffs and other market access data. This recommendation supports the voluntary submission of additional information and automatic electronic transmission of members' tariff or import data to the IDB as per the May 2019 IDB Decision.
    • Access to finance and cross-border payments - Access to finance and cross-border payments are major challenges for the engagement of MSMEs in trade. The Group calls on members to share best practices with a view to identifying concrete measures.

Recent developments

  • The Coordinator of the Informal Working Group said that he will issue in the lead up to MC12 a statement, under his own responsibility that takes stock of the Group's work since it was established at the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires in December 2017, including the adoption of a package of six recommendations and declarations in December 2020 (INF/MSME/4/Rev.2) and development of the Trade4MSMEs web platform.
  • The Group's Trade4MSMEs web platform for MSMEs and policymakers was launched in December 2021. The aim of the platform is to provide trade-related information to small businesses seeking to reach international markets and relevant information for policy makers.
  • In June 2021, the Group launched the Digital Champions for Small Business initiative in partnership with the International Chamber of Commerce and the International Trade Centre to help small businesses go digital and increase their participation in international trade. The winners were announced at a virtual event on 2 December 2021. The 2022 edition of the Small Business Champions will be launched on 27 June.

More on the Informal Working Group on Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs).


Note:

  1. Members (3.05.22): Afghanistan; Albania; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Armenia; Australia; Bahrain, Kingdom of; Belize; Brazil; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; China; Colombia; Costa Rica; C˘te d'Ivoire; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; El Salvador; the European Union; The Gambia, Georgia, Grenada; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Hong Kong, China; Iceland; Israel; Japan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Korea, Republic of; Kyrgyz Republic; Lao PDR; Liechtenstein; Macao, China, Malaysia; Mexico; Moldova, Republic of; Mongolia; Montenegro; Myanmar; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; North Macedonia; Norway; Pakistan; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Qatar; the Russian Federation; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of; Singapore; Switzerland; the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu; Tajikistan Turkey; the United Kingdom; Ukraine; Uruguay; Viet Nam. back to text

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