Gibraltar, 8 April 2002
at the 13th International Conference on Small and Medium Enterprises
Dear Mr. Wan Jifei, President of the World Association for Small and Medium Enterprises (WASME),
Ms. Marie Lou Guerrero, Chairperson of the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses,
Hon Peter Caruana Q.C., Chief Minister of Gibraltar,
It is my great honour and pleasure to welcome the participants of the 13th WASME International Conference on SMEs just a few minutes after that Mr. A.H. Hossen, Vice-President of the WASME, and Mr. Antal Szabó, Regional Adviser on Entrepreneurship and SMEs of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen existing cooperation between our organizations, to promote entrepreneurship and the creation of a sustainable SME sector.
For the United Nations working with non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations is paramount importance. The UN NGO Millennium Forum Declaration in May 2000 stated, "We begin the new millennium facing grave and interconnected challenges…. Globalization and advances in technology create significant opportunities for people to connect, share and learn from each other. At the same time, corporate-driven globalization increases inequities between and within countries, undermines local traditions and cultures, and escalates disparities between rich and poor, thereby marginalizing large numbers of people in urban and rural areas. "
The core of the political and economic transformation of any country in transition (CITs) is the creation of the private sector, the development of entrepreneurship and creation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs.) They are considered to be one of the principal driving forces in economic development. SMEs stimulate private ownership and entrepreneurial skills, they are flexible and can adapt quickly to changing market demand and supply situations, they generate employment, help diversify economic activity and make a significant contribution to exports and trade. SMEs also play an important role in innovation and the high-tech business, due to their flexibility and creativity and many of them became large businesses. In this process emphasis should be laid on creation of a business friendly environment in which the transformation of the society towards a market economy should be taking place. The near 11 million SMEs in the 28 countries in transition have more than 55 million employees, while the number of unemployed accounts for 19 million.
The overall goal of the UNECE Strategy for SME Development is to establish a friendly environment for enterprise creation, economic growth and expand income opportunities in economies in transition through sustainable, dynamic SME development. The objective is to promote the conditions necessary for the growth and development of the SME sector including:
(i) A favourable policy and regulatory environment;
(ii) Strong, sustainable institutions providing financial and non-financial services to meet the demand of SMEs;
(iii) Improved access of low-income and disadvantaged entrepreneurs (including women, young families, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities) to financial and business services for investing in enterprise; and
(iv) Promotion of women entrepreneurship in the whole UNECE region.
Based on our common effort, in 2000, the Ministers of Economy within the framework of the Central European Initiative adopted a Declaration on "SMEs at the Dawn of the 21st Century" in Budapest, which serves as a guideline for development of national SME-policies and programmes. In 2001, a similar Declaration was adopted by the Ministers of Economy of the Organization of the BSEC in Istanbul, while the adaptation of the CIS Declaration is in progress. The UNECE secretariat provided assistance in drafting these Declarations.
Recognizing the importance of the enterprise and SME development UNECE in November 2000 created a new Working Party on Industry and Enterprise Development. At its 2nd session held in March in Geneva the Working Party accepted its programme of work for 2001-2002, which covers industrial restructuring, entrepreneurship and sustainable development. The Working Party would be expected to be increasingly involved in work to enhance the use of new technologies relevant to all aspects of industrial restructuring and enterprise development.
31 countries out of the 112 member States of the WASME are also members of the UNECE. I am fully convinced that signing this MoU will deepen cooperation between our organizations with a view to strengthening the capabilities of SMEs, particularly in countries in transition as well as developing and the least developed economies.
On behalf of the UNECE, I have great pleasure in adding my own words of warm welcome. I wish you fruitful exchange of experiences, to conclude new friendships, to build strong networking and enrich yourself from the Gibraltar experience.