On 22-23 February 2018, the OECD organised the third OECD SME Ministerial Conference on “Strengthening SMEs and Entrepreneurship for Productivity and Inclusive Growth”, hosted by the Mexican Ministry of Economy in Mexico City, Mexico. The event gathered over 300 participants, including Ministers, Vice Ministers, senior policy makers and high-level representatives from 55 OECD Member and Non-Member countries, the European Union and 12 international organisations. The conference was chaired by Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Minister of Economy of Mexico. The Vice Chairs were Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, State Secretary for Economic Affairs, Education and Research of Switzerland, Stuart Nash, Minister for Small Business of New Zealand, and Hasan Ali Çelik, Vice-Minister of Science, Industry and Technology of Turkey.

Against the background of low growth and rising inequality, the event offered a platform for a high-level Ministerial dialogue on how governments can provide SMEs with the right conditions to enhance their contributions to productivity, growth and social inclusion. Discussions drew on latest OECD findings and body of analysis on these issues. Ministers recognised the major role of SMEs in delivering more inclusive growth, and the importance of enabling SMEs to seize the benefits of ongoing transformations, such as globalisation and digitalisation. They discussed opportunities, challenges and effective policy approaches to enable SMEs to scale up, access a diversified set of financing instruments, and increase their participation in a globally integrated economy. They shared views and experiences on approaches to improve the business environment for SMEs through effective regulation, facilitate SME business transfer to address the challenges arising from an ageing population of entrepreneurs, develop entrepreneurship competencies, promote innovation in established SMEs, strengthen social inclusion through inclusive entrepreneurship, and improve the monitoring and evaluation of SME and entrepreneurship policies.

Issues related to digital transformation were pervasive in the discussions, testifying to the profound impact of digital technologies. The importance of stakeholder engagement, including direct engagement with SMEs and potential entrepreneurs, was highlighted throughout the Conference.

Fourteen years after the last OECD Ministerial Conference on SMEs in Istanbul in 2004, the 2018 Ministerial Conference represents a new milestone in the OECD Bologna Process on SME and Entrepreneurship Policies, which was launched in 2000 at the first OECD SME Ministerial Conference in Bologna, Italy, as a dynamic political mechanism to foster the entrepreneurship agenda and SME competitiveness at the global level. The OECD Bologna Charter provides OECD and non-OECD countries a frame of reference for improving the efficiency of policies directed at fostering entrepreneurship and catalysing the development and competitiveness of SMEs at the local, national and international levels. The Istanbul Ministerial Declaration on Fostering the Growth of Innovative and Internationally Competitive SMEs advanced this agenda to enhance entrepreneurship and SME innovation as drivers of growth in a global economy.

The Ministerial Conference in Mexico City delivered the Declaration on Strengthening SMEs and Entrepreneurship for Productivity and Inclusive Growth, along with the Chair’s Summary of the Conference. The Declaration, which was adopted by 55 countries, including all OECD Members and 20 non-OECD Members, as well as the European Union, underlines the need for whole-of-government approaches and evidence-based policies to foster SME development and growth. It recognises the central role the OECD plays in analysis, policy dialogue, exchange of good practices and tailored policy support to governments. The Chair’s Summary provides a substantive account of the Ministerial discussions on all the themes addressed at the Conference.

The Ministerial Conference provided an opportunity for high-level exchange on the policy priorities of governments and informed the discussions of the Programme of Work and Budget of the OECD Working Party on SMEs and Entrepreneurship for 2019-20. This forward-looking work programme centres on key issues such as SME digitalisation; SME productivity; participation in global value chains (GVCs); SME financing; business transfer; monitoring and evaluation of SME policies; and the development of an OECD Strategy for SMEs.

The OECD will continue to advance the SME and entrepreneurship agenda, by strengthening knowledge, fostering policy dialogue and further intensifying its efforts to support countries in developing better SME and entrepreneurship policies.

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