Md. Joynal Abdin
The Daily Sun on April 2, 2017
There is a common debate that Bangladeshi SMEs are “Missing Middle” or “Excluded Middle” categories of enterprises of the economy. The first phrase i.e. the Missing Middle is mainly used by the donor communities and few Bangladeshi economists closely working with the donors.
It means that the SMEs are the middle segment of the enterprises which are missing either microfinance facilities i.e. exclusively for the cottage, and micro enterprises operated by the NGOs. On the other hand upper medium to large enterprises are enjoying every facilities of the institutional support offered by the government agencies and other institutes like banks, leasing companies, and multinational or regional trade negotiation platforms etc. Similarly in the second phrase Excluded Middle the concept is the same but only different is that, missing middles are out of service by error or unknowingly.
On the other hand, Excluded Middle are the missing part who are deliberately excluded by the policy makers, decision markers, government, development partners etc. to offer more benefits to the other segments. I would like to be with the second groups i.e. SMEs in Bangladesh are “Excluded Middle” segment of enterprises. Manufacturing SMEs are not getting any extra privilege over the trading and service sector enterprises from any policy aspects. SME loan are draining away by the traders or defaulter large enterprises that are included in the SME categories by the new definition of SMEs mentioned in the National Industrial Policy 2016 of the government. They are destroying reputation of the manufacturing SMEs through becoming defaulters in repayment of bank loans in time.
That means including trading, service and large enterprises into the categories of SMEs through broadening its threshold in the definition became harmful for the real entrepreneurs, I mean manufacturing SMEs from both the sides. Firstly they are competing with the manufacturers to grab benefits and destroying their reputations by becoming defaulters. Not only for these two reasons but due to many other reasons time has arrived to examine whether we are providing policy support to the real entrepreneurs i.e. local manufacturing enterprises those are creating jobs for the unemployed population in mass scale or their benefit is going to somewhere else due to policy gap of the government. To ensure optimum use of the government incentives and benefits definition of the manufacturing SMEs should be revisited and redefined by the government of Bangladesh.
To ensure inclusive and sustainable development of the economy it is not enough that the government will be happy with the GDP growth and increased amount of export earnings.
But government has to ensure stakes of every segment in the growth and export earnings as well. Large companies have competitive advantage over the SMEs in terms of organisational capacity, technical ability, access to finance, and negotiation capacity etc. aspects. As a result they are dominating in the national as well as the global trade of a country. But it is proved that the SMEs could have a vital stake in national and international market if proper policy support is available from the government. Japanese large companies are outsourcing required tools and equipment’s from their SMEs whereas Bangladeshi large companies are importing these from abroad to assemble or manufacture their products for national or international market. It could be said that the SMEs in Bangladesh are not capable of producing quality goods for supplying to the large companies. The question is how Japanese SMEs are being capable to produce qualitative goods? Why large enterprises, donors and government are not helping Bangladeshi SMEs to overcome their limitations and produce qualitative products for supplying to the large companies?
Arguments could come up survival to the fittest, why government should offer them extra benefit? The answer is quite simple that SMEs are contributing two-thirds of formal non-agricultural private employment around the world. They are contributing 63% of the total employment in OECD countries. In most of the developing countries and LDCs, SMEs are contributing more to employment generation than that of their GDP contribution. It is because SMEs are mainly labour intensive and using traditional low productive machineries due to their inability of further access to technology. But In Japan, Korea, and China it is proved that the SMEs could play the role of feeder organisation and supply qualitative intermediary goods for boosting up mass production of the large entities. On the other hand export orientation of SMEs could increase demand for their products and help them to go for large scale production.
Export orientation of SMEs could be facilitating in various forms like direct exports, indirect exports, non-equity contractual agreements, and foreign direct investment (FDI) etc. A recent study shows that, only 7.6% of the SMEs involved with export around the world are mostly from developing countries. On the other hand 14.1% of the large enterprises of the developing countries (that means double of the SMEs) are involved with export business. In terms of LDCs SMEs export involvement is about 3%, but direct export of manufacturing SMEs is a negligible, where 0.09% of service SMEs are export linked, this figure is 31.9% in case of large enterprises. That means SMEs are missing a level playing field in terms of international trade around the world. But for fostering inclusive and sustainable development a level playing field has to be created for the SMEs in international trade.
In terms of direct export Bangladeshi SMEs have limitation in trade negotiation with the potential buyers, limited ability to go abroad for buyer searching, limited managerial knowledge to handle export procedures and documentation etc. Therefore indirect export through large companies or group wise export could be encouraged here in Bangladesh. For example, one or two SMEs are unable to bear initial export costs but if ten SMEs become united and export under on single brand name and export documentation then it could be worthwhile in terms of export cost bearing and procedure handling. But till now buyer searching and proper positioning of products remains as challenges. In this case all the Bangladeshi embassies located outside Bangladesh could organize Bangladeshi product fairs once a year and display our SME products by inviting local chamber of commerce and business leaders and play the role of match makers in this case.
SMEs participation in indirect export is much better around the world. About 90% of export earnings of developing countries are indirectly contributed by the SMEs. The same report shows that, 78% of global enterprises are SME representative but only 34% of these are involved with direct or indirect international trade. That means SMEs have ability to further contribute in international trade around the world. If a level playing field could be ensured. Major obstacles to create a level playing field for the SMEs are:
SMEs are facing high tariff even more than the large firms due to the existing market mechanism. They are facing double even triple taxation due to their inability to maintain or obtain required tax relevant documents.
Adverse effects of the Non-tariff measures imposed by the importing country hit the SMEs much. Because large companies could adopt newer measures to address NTM requirements and enter into the market as a compliance company. But due to their limited capacity SMEs could not.
Cumbersome boarder procedures and delay shipment or clearance effect the SMEs more due to their inability of bearing highly charged boarder storage cost.
Access to information and distribution channel development is also another major challenge for export orientation of SMEs. Difficulties in access to required amount of trade finance is another major challenge for SMEs export orientation.
Most of above challenges require government policy intervention for creating and maintaining a level playing field for SMEs in national as well as international market. Adoption of ICT, e-marketing, e-commerce adoption could give them advantage over few of the above mentioned challenges but finally it is the government who has to come up with kind heart to support SMEs to grow further and contribute more in employment generation, GDP growth, export earnings and ensure an inclusive and sustainable development of the economy. Otherwise they will remain Missing Middle or Excluded Middle as mentioned.