APEC: big business sips while SMEs suffer

The Sydney CBD has been shut down for this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders forum. For the 62, mostly big business participants in the APEC business advisory council, this means very little – their pleasant harbour cruise proceeded yesterday without a hitch.

For the many SMEs in and around Sydney, especially those in the services sector, however, the only real effect of this week’s proceedings will be a drop in walk past traffic due to an unprecedented security lockdown on the area.

According to a New South Wales Business Chamber and Sydney Chamber of Commerce survey of businesses in the Sydney metro area, 16% of businesses will be forced either to limit opening hours or close entirely this week, while 14% while move all or some of their operations to a different location.

While the survey also shows that most businesses are well advanced in their planning for the APEC week, there is only so much that can be done to minimise the impact of a week shutdown. Especially for affected SMEs, the immediate feeling generated by APEC is much more likely to be pain than pleasure.

Having said that, the APEC summit will discuss some issues of real importance for SMEs. Progress towards a free trade agreement in the APEC area could see more markets open up for Australian exporters. This is especially true in the services sector, where cumbersome regulations in many Asian countries are blocking Australian businesses from access to lucrative markets.

“The greatest pressure is coming from our services sector, which is really burgeoning and finding great potential opportunities in Asia,” Mark Johnson, APEC business advisory council chairman told The Australian Financial Review.

“It is the services sector that can get tied down by a thousand silken threads – recognition of qualifications, licensing, establishing offices, many, many behind-the-border inhibitions that can make life more difficult,” Johnson told the paper.

Unfortunately, an APEC-wide free trade agreement will probably be out of reach at this week’s meeting, according to Trade Minister Warren Truss, who says that a more achievable mid-term goal may be to merge the various bilateral FTAs that currently operate in the region.

“The idea of an APEC-wide trading agreement may well be a step too far at the present time but these [FTA mergers] could well be useful mergers towards a broader free-trade agenda,” Truss told The Australian Financial Review.

SmartCompany will keep you abreast of all APEC announcements and breaking news in its daily APEC roundup.

Mike Preston



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