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APEC Bolsters Women’s Economic Empowerment And MSMEs Growth

Issued by the APEC Women and the Economy Forum and Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting

Seattle, The United States, 21 August 2023

APEC spotlights the strategic connection between women’s economic empowerment and the growth of micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) during a joint meeting between ministers responsible for women and the economy and SME ministers.

The joint meeting co-chaired by the United States Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Marisa Lago and Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Dr Geeta Rao Gupta explored actions to expand women-owned businesses’ access to global value chains, promote women’s entrepreneurship through e-commerce as well as boost women’s skills and role in the blue and green economy.

“MSMEs are the backbone of our APEC economies, accounting for more than 90 percent of all businesses and employing more than half the workforce across APEC economies,” said Under Secretary Lago as she opened the session on Sunday afternoon.

“Entrepreneurship and small business ownership can provide an avenue to economic security and financial independence for women, while simultaneously providing jobs and local community development,” Under Secretary Lago added.

“APEC can empower women-owned MSMEs by helping them overcome barriers such as inadequate access to finance, lack of awareness of procurement systems, and fewer networks and role models, each of which prevent women entrepreneurs from fully realizing the opportunities offered by global value chains.”

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Under Secretary Lago gave an example of how inclusive procurement programs enhance the reputation of both companies and governments, as well as positively impact profitability, resilience and return on investment. Despite this, women-owned businesses earn less than 1 percent of large corporations’ suppliers spending.

Under Secretary Lago urged her minister counterparts to be ambitious and aim to double this percentage, even be audacious and think about quintupling this percentage, highlighting that “in APEC we have a mechanism for reaching and exceeding this audacious goal.”

“Women's economic security is a moral imperative and it is smart business,” said Ambassador Rao Gupta, adding that women's economic security is central to the promotion and establishment of women's human rights and gender equality.

“But to achieve women's economic security, our work cannot start and end with just women,” Ambassador Rao Gupta added. “We must provide quality, inclusive and safe education for girls in all their diversity; this is in addition to training leadership and skills building opportunities for more equitable and inclusive economic growth.”

“Furthermore, if women obtain adequate training support and opportunities for advancement, then women and girls globally will achieve economic competitiveness through well-paying quality jobs and decent and dignified work which is the goal we're all shooting for,” said Ambassador Rao Gupta.

Earlier this week as part of the APEC Women and the Economy Forum, more than 50 delegates including women entrepreneurs, corporate procurement officials and government policymakers identified gaps in support for sourcing from women entrepreneurs and shared best practices.

In another program, more than 80 stakeholders deliberated on ways to empower women entrepreneurs in cross-border e-commerce. Under Secretary Lago stressed that while e-commerce is a vital tool for businesses to reach customers, women are very significantly underrepresented in many APEC economies.

“This disparity absolutely demands that we work together to understand the unique obstacles that women face in the digital economy,” Under Secretary Lago said. “It's even more of an imperative that we find solutions to increase women entrepreneurs’ participation in e-commerce.”

“I urge every single one of us to double down on both our professional and our personal commitment to help women and girls achieve their entrepreneurial dreams,” Under Secretary Lago concluded.

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