The SME Competitiveness Report is an annual document that is published by the International Trade Centre (ITC) whose goal is to provide guidance to policy makers, business managers and trade and investment support institutions. This year’s report SME guide to regional value chains gives a way forward to stakeholders on how to become more attractive partners for lead firms, as well as how to strengthen their bargaining power within these value chains. It looks at how SMEs can best leverage value chains with a specific focus on regional value chains and how they can use these as a platform for internalization.
It is interesting to note that over the past last two decades, significant strides have been made in as far as creating a conducive environment for inclusivity in regional trade agreements. Provisions that have been made for gender equality and SMEs has seen the share of preferential trade agreements entering into force with this inclusivity angle more than triple since the late 1990s.
What comes out clearly is that regional value chains are more prevalent and easier to access than global ones. Generally, value chains are clustered around regional activities. However African firms tend to operate in a different manner as it was found out that they are more likely to join production networks outside of the continent. This is especially the case for East African Firms that typically export intermediate inputs to firms in East Asia, Europe or North America.
Also, the lack of regional integration in Africa means that it is more difficult for SMEs on the continent to lower their transaction costs and tap into regional value chains. To this end, the report shows that on the global scene, regional value chain activity was lowest in Africa. In their ranking of SME regional competitiveness, South Africa leads the score on the continent, but lies significantly behind top performers in other regions of the world. The low ranking of Sub Saharan African SMEs is attributed to the lack of a clear headquarter economy in the region.
Further, SME firms generally engage in business functions of low complexity, suggesting that they only capture a small share of value added in the chains. In order to gain traction in the right direction, SMEs can increase their bargaining power by improving the complexity of their goods and services and by also increasing the pool of their buyers. This can also be achieved by focusing on how to improve services as higher value is associated with segments of a value chain that trade services, and not goods. In both developed and developing countries, services are seen to be the glue that holds value chains together.
The report is timely and relevant for stakeholders for it clearly states the importance of having a well-coordinated process around the drafting and implementation of government policies aimed at regional integration processes in a way that enables them to spur the growth and success of SMEs by enabling them to tap into wider markets.
Informal Economy Analysis