(fa fede il testo effettivamente pronunciato)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It’s a pleasure to open this Seminar which sees the participation of so many high-level representatives from Asia and Europe.
At the outset, let me thank you all for being here, from different parts of the world.
And, of course, I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to our Partners here in Italy, who have supported our idea to organize this Meeting from the very beginning, namely Banca d’Italia, which has also granted a financial contribution towards this event, and the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), which has greatly helped us in developing this project.
Through the organization of this Seminar, we wanted to give a valuable contribution to the dialogue between Asia and Europe.
As one of the founding partners of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Italy has always believed in and contributed to this fora since 1996, and especially after the successful outcome of the last ASEM Summit in Milan.
Today, we feel even more encouraged to leverage on this dialogue process, which is an inclusive and multidimensional process, engaging both Governments and civil society, which has proven to be of great relevance for our communities.
In recent years, the ASEM dialogue has been increasingly focusing on the concept of ‘connectivity’, and, from a mere economic perspective, our collaboration can surely tap on many similarities between our economic structures, including the fact that -in both Asia and Europe-, Small and Medium Enteprises (SMEs) play an extremely important role.
This is certainly true in Italy, where Small and medium-sized enterprises are the backbone of our industrial and economic structure, but also in the rest of Europe, where SMEs account for 99% of registered business and provide some 67% of all jobs. As an example of the magnitude of SMEs as job-creators, consider that in 2014 more than 21.6m of SMEs in the non-financial sector employed 88.8 million people and generated over 58% of total added value (EUR 3.6 trillion).
Likewise, in Asia-Pacific, SMEs are emerging as an indispensable asset of national economies. In developing Asia, they account for almost 98% of all enterprises and employ an average between 64% and 76% of the national labor force.
Regardless of their current contribution to economic output, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are a crucial driving force for employment, innovation and development across a wide range of important industries, including manufacturing, services and trade.
Today, trade increasingly means “global supply chain" trade: SMEs that are part of the global supply chain have shown a strong potential in mobilizing domestic demand.
Overall, these data suggest that supporting the development of Small and Medium Enterprises is key to promoting inclusive growth across Asia and Europe, and yet, in both regions, we observe that very few growth-oriented SMEs manage to become larger businesses. There are many obstacles - among them, bureaucracy, concerns about intellectual property protection, cultural barriers - but let me focus on a crucial one: limited access to finance, which prevent SME from making the necessary investments to improve their operations, upgrade or expand, let alone to internationalize.
Not surprisingly, many studies have shown that access to finance remains one of the greatest challenges for SMEs across Asia and Europe.
Access to funding and debt credit is of greater concern to SMEs than to larger enterprises, considering that the work and costs involved in assessing a small company’s application for finance is relatively disproportionate, compared to their potential revenue.
Especially over the course of the global financial crises, lending to SMEs has further declined. This market deficiency has also affected international business and trade, also considering that SMEs seeking funding opportunities abroad often face additional difficulties relating to different credit ratings and requirements.
All these considerations are of particular relevance in view of promoting a stronger ‘connectivity’ between Asia and Europe, and they need to be addressed through an international perspective that goes beyond traditional and established ways.
SME finance policies often focus on bank efficiency and bankability, but realistic limitations of bank lending practices - at least in Europe - substantiate the need for new financing models and diversified support. Information and communication technologies are stimulating new instruments and platforms for financing to emerge, helping small savers to invest directly all over the world and reducing the transation costs between debtors and creditors. Italy is strongly promoting these new tools.
Especially as the world economy seems to face a new slow-down, SMEs will have to play a key part in pushing developing Asia forward, and our economic cooperation calls for a new development model in which SMEs’ productivity can have a more driving role.
Therefore, a joint reflection on ways to support the growth and expansion of SMEs is most timely and appropriate, especially with regard to what is still perceived as their greatest challenge across Asia and Europe, namely access to finance, be it in the form of debt credit, capital investment or other financial resources.
By bringing together some of the most relevant public and private stakeholders on the issue, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Banca d’Italia, have promoted the organization of this Seminar, in collaboration with the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), in view of supporting a valuable exchange of best practices between Asia and Europe, but also with the aim of suggesting new forms of collaboration and policy recommendations for the ASEM Governments.
This Seminar therefore represents a ‘tangible activity’ of the ASEM dialogue process, in line with the inclusive approach of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), and our intention is to report its findings and conclusions to some of the most important, upcoming ASEM events, including the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Luxemburg in November, the ASEM Finance Ministers’ Meeting in Mongolia, and the next ASEM Summit which will also take place in Mongolia in July 2016.
In conclusion, we trust that this Meeting will open a new chapter in the ASEM framework, focusing on the topic of ‘Financing SMEs in Asia and Europe’, and - in this respect - we will certainly encourage our ASEM partners to follow-up and to promote other dialogue opportunities on the issue.
So, on this note, I can only wish you a most productive proceeding, and I look forward to be inspired by your exchange of ideas, in view of enhancing an effective cooperation between our Regions.