2018 OECD SME Ministerial Conference
Closing Remarks by Angel Gurría
Mexico City, Mexico - 23 February 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Dear Minister Guajardo, Ministers, Ambassadors, OECD friends, SME friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
All great things come to an end! We have reached the conclusion of the 2018 Ministerial Conference on SMEs. My thanks to the Mexican Government for hosting us, and for its leadership in elevating SME issues on the international policy agenda.
I would also like to acknowledge the President of Mexico’s National Institute of Entrepreneurs ─ INADEM ─ Mr. Alejandro Delgado; Mexico’s Ambassador to the OECD, Ms. Monica Aspé; and the Chair of the OECD Working Party on SMEs and Entrepreneurship, Mr. Alejandro Gonzalez. Your dedication and efforts over the past months have helped make this Conference a success!
I also want to recognise our Vice Chairs ─ New Zealand, Switzerland and Turkey ─ for their contributions. And last but not least all of you, who have come from across the world to share ideas, exchange experiences and develop a common way forward. An integrated approach to SME policy. A strategic agenda.
Together, we have agreed that enabling SMEs and entrepreneurship to flourish and strengthen their capacity to innovate, scale up and create quality jobs is essential for equitable, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Let me share with you some highlights from our discussion.
Governments are improving the business environment for SMEs
We learned that governments are taking action to support SME contributions to employment and productivity growth. Increasingly, policymakers are focusing on scaling up promising firms and fostering innovations. These actions must be designed so that SMEs can benefit from them all along their life cycle, across sectors and regions. And for good reason: more innovative SMEs are more productive SMEs! Which pay better wages and offer better working conditions, helping to reduce inequalities.
Innovation and scaling up depend on the right institutional and regulatory settings. We have discussed how overly burdensome tax and regulatory requirements and compliance costs can put SMEs at a disadvantage compared to large firms and may act as a deterrent to formalisation. We have all committed to do more to improve the business environment and ensure a level playing field. This means cutting red tape, increasing the transparency and the cost-efficiency of regulations and ensuring digital technologies diffuse better to SMEs.
While competitive frameworks at home are essential, the enabling conditions for business creation and SME development are increasingly determined by what happens across borders. SMEs pay the highest price for trade barriers, market distortions and tax avoidance. Multilateral co operation is vital to deliver a fairer playing field. For all those reasons, SMEs will be at the top of the agenda of OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting next May on ‘Refonder le Multilateralisme’.
We must harness the power of multilateral co-operation to create sound regulatory and competitive conditions. We must also ensure that SMEs have access to strategic resources, such as skills, financing, technology, knowledge and networks.
Stepping up efforts to provide skills, finance and infrastructure
Stepping up efforts to support SMEs in developing and passing on management, entrepreneurial and digital skills were a major focus of this Ministerial Meeting. These efforts support business creation, but also increase the chance that economically sound SMEs will survive, as know-how passes from one generation to the next.
Skills nurture business growth, but as we all know, financing helps plant the seed. The OECD Scoreboard on Financing SMEs and Entrepreneurs, which I launched this week with Minister Guajardo, shows that governments are responding to the challenge to diversify SME financing, as set out in the G20/OECD High Level Principles on SME Financing. But it also rang the alarm: financing for SMEs decreased in several countries in 2016. In the United Kingdom, for example, new lending fell by -4.1% year on year. In the Netherlands, the drop was even more significant at -17.1%.
The digital transition and the advent of Fintech have the potential to unlock finance for SMEs and entrepreneurs. But this relies on regulatory frameworks that support new developments while ensuring financial stability and providing adequate protection for consumers and investors. The OECD’s Going Digital project is taking a ‘deep dive’ into these issues, looking at finance but also at policies to diffuse digital technologies to SMEs.
Access to skills, finance, knowledge and networks is often more challenging for certain social groups, such as youth, women, migrants, older people and the unemployed. This is why the OECD’s Missing Entrepreneurs study sets out how public policies at national, regional and local levels can help people from disadvantaged or under-represented groups, overcome obstacles to business start-ups and self-employment.
There is so much to gain from these efforts, as demonstrated in Wednesday’s OECD INADEM interactive workshop on fostering the dynamism and innovation of women entrepreneurs.
The way forward requires a cross-cutting approach
Our discussions at this Ministerial Conference have demonstrated the breadth of the SME policy space and what should be our next steps.
One thing is clear. Delivering effective SME policies calls for breaking down policy silos, and understanding and managing trade-offs, synergies and complementarities, including across levels of government. As the OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) Initiative has taught us, an integrated, cross-cutting policy approach is crucial to level the playing field.
To this end, we need more and better evidence on SMEs, acknowledging their large heterogeneity, and better targeted support to small businesses. Stakeholder engagement and continued public-private dialogue are also crucial to ensure that policies take full account of the business perspective. Remember, behind every SME there is a valuable story to improve policymaking. So, let’s listen to them.
The OECD has been working side by side with countries to support their SME and entrepreneurship policies. In recent years, country reviews in Canada, Israel, Italy and Mexico, among others, have helped improve SME policy settings. We are currently working with Hungary on the formulation of a new SME Strategy.
We have learned a lot, but we need to do more! In this spirit, the OECD will step up its efforts to support countries in developing evidence-based SME and entrepreneurship policies. I said it in the opening and I’ll say it again, we want to be the cathedral of SMEs! The “go to” place about SME policies.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The 2018 OECD-Mexico SME Ministerial has been a decisive step in the journey we have been on since Bologna in 2000. Let’s keep its spirit going! Let’s make it count; let’s make this new, integrated approach to SME’s a state of mind. You can count on the OECD to support SMEs as engines of inclusive growth, employment and well-being. Let’s continue to design, develop and deliver better SME policies for better lives. Thank you.