Part 2: E-commerce a way forward for small businesses? … Lets find some solutions!

contd...Rupa speaks with Colette Van der Ven, Director of Trade and Development, Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program at Sidley Austin, Geneva

Do SMEs actually know that these are issues? And if not, what can you do or what can you suggest for SMEs and MSMEs to identify issues like these?

That’s a great question. You are absolutely right, the key issue is that SMEs are not even aware of all the boxes that must be ticked in order to engage in e-commerce transactions with international buyers. Indeed, it is not on the radar of many SMEs that to sell into, for instance, the European Union, they would need to look at product requirements, trade preferences schemes, health and safety regulations, privacy laws, data protection regulations, etc. And this is logical, as most SME founders and owners are artists, or businessman and women, but not experts on the international legal and regulatory environment.

There are a number of resources out there that aim to help SMEs from developing countries to engage in international e-commerce.  To start, the export promotion agencies of various governments have adopted programs to facilitate international e-commerce by SMEs. Moreover, some SMEs have set up associations amongst themselves to address these issues. For instance, during a visit to Nairobi last month for a SheTrades workshop, I met a number of women, all SME business owners, who established the Ubunifu Kenya Association.  The association, which focuses on garment and textile SMEs, organizes trainings and webinars about, inter alia, export markets, to bridge the information gap.  

Moreover, international organizations have various initiatives that are ensuring SMEs become market-ready. One program that comes to mind is the International Trade Center’s SheTrades initiative, which provides women entrepreneurs with a unique network and platform to connect to markets.  Another is Connect Americas, from the Inter-American Development Bank, an online platform that helps SMEs in Latin America grow their business.

For a small brand, what could you suggest as reference?

There exist numerous online resources that provide a good starting point to get a better understanding of the basic legal and regulatory requirements that must be met to sell into the European Union or US market. For the EU, a very useful resource is the Trade Helpdesk. Another useful tool is the CBI, the Centre for the promotion of imports from developing countries, which is an initiative by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The CBI provides comprehensive market information  and also helps developing country businesses identify and meet the requirements of European buyers. 

Moreover, becoming a pro bono client of Sidley’s Emerging Enterprises Pro Bono Program is a great way to find out about the legal and regulatory requirements that must be complied with when selling into high value markets like the European Union or the United States.

Can you suggest or do you know of a very simply written information guideline for small brands and artisans who want to enter digital trade ?

A tool kit would be a great idea! This exists for e-commerce more generally, but I have yet to encounter a simplified written guideline focuses on the legal and regulatory issues SMEs in developing countries that want to enter international e-commerce should think about it. Developing this tool would enable SMEs from around the world to know what boxes they must tick, and help them begin ticking these boxes.

RUPA : great.... Let’s get started!! : ) 



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