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APEC ministers pledge relief for small businesses

Wellington, Oct 10 (IANS) Ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group responsible for small and medium enterprises have vowed to continue addressing the needs of small businesses with relief programs in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ministers convened virtually at the 27th APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting on Saturday, with a collective goal to strengthen the resilience of small businesses across the Asia-Pacific region focusing on digitalisation, inclusive growth and well-being, reports Xinhua news agency.

Chairing the meeting was New Zealand's Minister for Small Business Stuart Nash.

In his opening remarks, Nash reiterated the role of small businesses as "the powerhouses of our economies and communities".

"They unite our communities... The survival and resilience of our small businesses through this pandemic is critical to a sustainable economic recovery and maintaining the cohesion of our communities."

Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) account for more than 97 per cent of businesses in the APEC region, employing more than 60 per cent of the workforce and comprising 40 to 60 per cent of economic growth in most economies.

Nash urged APEC members to acknowledge the essential role of trade in enabling a strong economic recovery for the region's small businesses in the face of the global pandemic.

"Our economies need to take bold action to enhance MSMEs and start-ups, ensuring access to international markets and supply chains by facilitating an open and inclusive trade and investment environment," Nash said.

The APEC Ministers acknowledged the critical importance of digitalisation as an enabler of an effective recovery from economic shocks and agreed that the adoption of digital solutions and tools are no longer optional, but necessary.

"Rapid innovation and digital technologies have supported us to overcome many of the significant obstacles we've faced as a result of Covid-19, such as the restricted movement of goods and people," Nash said.

"There are huge opportunities for APEC economies to enhance cooperation around adopting digital technologies and innovation to create more efficient and resilient futures for us all."

Nash also called on member economies to ensure that policies deliver economic opportunity for all, including women, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups, as greater focus on inclusive growth will open untapped economic potential.

The APEC ministers agreed to create an enabling environment for small businesses to engage in innovative, environmentally sustainable practices and activities.