Wednesday 9, March 2016

Dubai – MENA Herald: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and policy-makers, SME development agencies as well as business representatives in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have concluded two days of discussions held in Dubai on reforms and improvements required to accelerate the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region.

The two-day meeting, held 8-9 March 2016, started with delegates exploring areas for greater co-operation between the OECD and countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) on the first day. Meanwhile, the MENA-OECD Working Group on SME and Entrepreneurship Policy, held on the second day brought together MENA policymakers and representatives from SME agencies, the private sector and regional and international organisations to define priority areas of work to support enterprise growth, access to finance and SME integration in global value chains.

His Excellency Sultan Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy, in his keynote address on the final day delivered on his behalf by HE Mohammed Al Shehhi, Undersecretary for Economic Affairs at the Ministry, spoke of the priority being given to SMEs across policies and initiatives in the UAE as they are seen as the chief enablers of economic diversification, innovation and the shift to a knowledge-based economy as targeted by the UAE Vision 2021.

“SMEs account for more than 94 per cent of the companies operating in the UAE and their total number is 350,000. As many as 73 per cent companies in the wholesale and retail trade and 16 per cent in the services sector are SMEs. The manufacturing sector also has a 11 per cent share for SMEs. Together, these SMEs contribute to 86 per cent of the total workforce in the UAE and account for a GDP share of 60 per cent,” said Al Mansouri.

The Minister further said that the UAE aims to achieve a GDP share of 70% from the SME sector by 2021 and mentioned some of the strategic measures being taken towards this goal.

“President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued the Federal Law No: 2 of 2014 to regulate the relationship between all government institutions and entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises sector. The law is a turning point in empowering people and realising the aspirations of our younger generation,” said Al Mansouri.

“In June 2015, the Cabinet headed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, also established a council to drive growth of SMEs and entrepreneurs in the country,” Al Mansouri said, adding that regional and international collaboration will help achieve the SME development goals of the country,” added the Minister.

HE Ambassador Marie-Claire Sward Capra, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Delegation of Sweden to the OECD, and Co-Chair of the MENA-OECD Competitiveness Programme commented that the meetings in Dubai have provided an important occasion for MENA and OECD partners to strengthen their commitment towards SME development.

“SMEs and entrepreneurs, especially women and young entrepreneurs offer a great opportunity for the development of the MENA region when the right policies are put in place. The OECD and Sweden will remain active and engaged in supporting the MENA region in this endeavour,” said the Ambassador.

“Dubai SME has developed a portfolio of initiatives targeted at specific areas of entrepreneurship development in order to create a comprehensive SME growth ecosystem. We are also keen to share knowledge and best practices with regional and international enablers in entrepreneurship development and further enhance the contribution of SMEs to overall economic development and job creation in the region,” said Abdul Baset Al Janahi, CEO of Dubai SME.

Carlos Conde, Head of the Middle East and Africa Division, Global Relations Secretariat, OECD thanked Dubai SME for hosting the meetings and said the UAE recognises the great potential of SMEs for economic development and diversification.

“The MENA region and the OECD have a mutually beneficial relationship spanning a wide range of policy areas and with a clear objective: promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. SMEs are particularly important in this regard given their role in job creation and their relevance in priority economic sectors for the region: tourism, services and light manufacturing. As the conclusions of these two days of meetings show, we will continue and strengthen our efforts towards realising the great potential of SMEs,” said Conde.

The dialogue sessions on the final day were dedicated to exploring measures to improve business environments for SMEs; promoting start-ups and SME growth; access to finance; and priorities areas for policy-making the next five years.