The Coalition government has announced a $50 million boost to the Export Market Development Grants scheme, as it aims to encourage more SMEs to export.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb introduced legislation to Parliament yesterday for the $50 million increase and measures to make the scheme more accessible to small businesses.
Small Business Minister Bruce Billson told SmartCompany the changes will help hundreds of SMEs to enter new markets and explore new business opportunities.
“Because of the focus on SMEs’ role in the export economy, the aim is to encourage more small businesses to apply by better communicating this opportunity,” he says.
“In the past some have chosen not to apply because they didn’t think they’d have met the grants threshold, but this has been lowered and we’re hoping it will be a catalyst for more SMEs to think about exporting.
Billson says small business participation in the scheme will be “simpler” and it will be “more accessible”.
Under the changes to the scheme, the amount companies need to spend on exporting before being eligible for a grant will be reduced from $20,000 to $15,000.
“If a business spends $15,000 on export promotion, currently they’d receive nothing, but under these changes businesses can spend $15,000 on exporting opportunities and receive $5,000 back from the government to help support their efforts and enterprise,” Billson says.
“Secondly there is also a change in the number of grants which eligible companies can seek. Currently there is a cap on it at seven, but we’ve realised there have been factors like the high exchange rate which may have impacted these businesses and they may need to re-engage to recover their markets, so we’re opening up an eight grant.”
The decision to initiate the $50 million boost to the program came about after the previous Labor government slashed the scheme by $25 million.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry director of trade and international affairs, Bryan Clark, praised the initiative in a statement.
“Minister Robb has been trying hard to open new markets through market visitations and advancing talks on trade liberalisation in our region. This announcement is a tangible support programme that will directly assist companies to secure more commercial contracts, underpin their viability and ultimately provide more jobs and investment to our economy,” he says.
“It is important that the government assist the Australian economy to grow though internationally focused efforts, so that as the world recovers from the financial crisis our exporters have not lost ground in their efforts to maintain current markets and develop new ones.”
Billson says the scheme recognises SMEs as “the engine room for private sector growth” and he says the government is also working on increasing education opportunities for start-ups and small businesses considering exporting.
“I’ve been working closely with Andrew Robb to make sure export support infrastructure is more readily available to small businesses. This is a very tangible instalment in that work,” he says.
“There is also a significant trade delegation going to China and we’ve invited small business to be a part of that and we’re also looking at the programs of Austrade… to make sure those programs are small business friendly and communicated clearly to small business exporters.”
Billson says export opportunities for SMEs exist in particular in the services industry and specialist manufacturing and technology sectors.
“Many small businesses are involved in the technology sector and are specialists at what they do. There are also opportunities for mining and mining services companies… and even for those producing niche food products,” he says.
“The best thing we can do is build an appetite for exporting and to make sure the support infrastructure is small business friendly.”