Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the lifeblood of Canada’s economy. Today we have over 1.1 million SMEs in the country. They constitute more than 99 per cent of Canadian business and employ more than 90 per cent of workers in the private sector. Promoting their capacity and growth is essential for the future health of the Canadian economy.
One key strategy for achieving this objective is to ensure that SMEs are able to take advantage of the growing market opportunities in Asia – a region that is projected to generate nearly 45 per cent of the world’s GDP and represent 42 per cent of the world’s total middle class consumption by 2020. In 2014, of the 12 per cent of Canadian SMEs that exported, only 13 per cent exported to China and only 16 per cent exported to other Asian economies.
The relatively low rates of internationalization of SMEs are not unique to Canada. Researchers and policy-makers studying this issue have identified a number of barriers that prevent SMEs from successfully entering international markets. These include:
- lack of infrastructure;
- inadequate information about market opportunities;
- unconducive trade policy and regulations;
- expensive and not internationally accepted inputs;
- lack of access to financing; and,
- uncompetitive products.
In response, governments, including the Government of Canada, have designed export assistance programs to help SMEs overcome these challenges.
With the objective of learning from the rich experiences and lessons that other countries have gained from their own programs, in early 2016, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada announced a competitive policy research grant for research on best practices by foreign SME export assistance programs. The grant was awarded to teams of researchers at Ryerson University and California Lutheran University who looked at a wide range of assistance programs targeting branding, financing, and management-associated challenges, among other issues. Their findings are outlined in 10 unique reports and will be of interest to Canadian policy-makers and businesses.