What is Happening at the International and Regional Level for MSME Trade Policy?

What is Happening at the International and Regional Level for MSME Trade Policy?

Disclaimer: The following list provides examples of organizations working on MSME trade policy and related subjects at the international and regional level. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list.


The International Finance Corporation (IFC) 

he IFC is part of the World Bank Group and focuses on private sector development issues in developing economies. In this context, the IFC provides investment and advisory services to support financial intermediaries in reaching out to the SME sector more effectively and efficiently. The IFC also has various reports on these subjects, including the MSME Finance Gap Report and a Supply Chain Finance Knowledge Guide.  This information and more is available on the IFC SME Finance web page. 


The International Labour Organization (ILO)

As the UN agency in charge of labor rights, the ILO is an important resource for understanding recent developments in employment trends. It provides advisory services to ILO members on SME policies and is also an important resource for SME labor statistics. More information on the ILO’s SME-related reports and recent initiatives can be found at their Small and Medium Enterprises web page.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The IMF is an international financial institution with 190 members, with a mission that focuses on cooperation in the areas of financial and monetary policy. In that context, the IMF recognizes the need for SME financial inclusion and maintains a webpage linking to various resources issued by the organization, including research and working papers. Other information, including online trainings, notes, and working papers, can be found via the IMF’s search functionality. This can be accessed directly at SME Financial Inclusion (imf.org).


The International Trade Centre (ITC) 

The ITC is a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. It is also the only development agency that is fully dedicated to supporting SME integration into the wider international marketplace. The ITC provides a number of resources, from research outputs such as its flagship SME Competitiveness Outlook report, to policymaker tools like the Global Trade Helpdesk. For a full list of the ITC’s online resources, see the guide on the ITC’s MSME resources.


The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The ITU is a UN agency with a dedicated focus on information and communications technologies (ICT). In this context, the ITU has worked on supporting the scaling up of innovation and building an enabling environment for SMEs. Therefore, the organization is actively working on developing initiatives that help create synergies in ICT entrepreneurship. For more information, visit the ITU website.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 

The OECD is a 38-member body that includes a dedicated area of work on SMEs and entrepreneurship. It provides data and analysis to develop policies in this area and facilitate sustainable growth, competitiveness, and the creation of skilled jobs. For a full list of OECD online resources, see the guide on the OECD’s MSME resources.


Regional Development Banks 

Many regional development banks have conducted research on the SME financing gap and provide various tools to support MSME financial inclusion.

  • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) – The Asian Development Bank provides a variety of reports and financing project information on SMEs, which can be found by searching their website. They also provide financing for businesses and projects of all sizes.
  • The African Development Bank (AfDB) – The African Development Bank maintains an Africa SME Program, designed to address shortcomings in the local market supply of finance for SMEs.
  • The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) – The IADB offers financial products and advisory services to large corporate entities, financial intermediaries, small and medium enterprises, and state-owned enterprises. It also produces reports on national and regional MSME finance.
  • The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) – The EBRD has launched a strategic initiative that brings together its tools to support small enterprises. The EBRD provides loans and investments through financial institutions and risk-sharing facilities, along with financing small businesses directly. Visit the EBRD Small Business Initiative.


Regional Initiatives 

Many regional economic coalitions also actively work to support MSMEs. Below are links to a few of these organizations.

  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations provides MSME resources, including training from the ASEAN SME Academy and other useful business links. ASEAN also publishes books and papers on MSMEs in ASEAN, including studies on MSME participation in the digital economy and SME access to finance.  
  • The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum – The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, in acknowledgement of the importance of SMEs to the region’s economies, has a dedicated webpage linking to SME research and activities by the APEC SME Working Group (SMEWG). APEC regularly holds SME-related workshops and SMEWG has recently released an updated strategic plan for 2021-2024 focused on SME innovation, inclusivity and access to global markets.



The UN Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) is a subsidiary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and serves as a focal point for trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards. UN/CEFACT’s MSME trade-relevant work includes Trade Facilitation Recommendations. These involve, among other resources, policymaker training materials for the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) Articles 10.1, 10.3, 10.4 and 23.2, and the ISMIT (Integrated Services for MSMEs in International Trade) project. 

The ISMIT framework is meant to provide MSMEs with fully integrated electronic support services for the complete cross-border trade transaction, including access to logistics service providers, financing services, insurance services, and regulatory services. This support can either be through connectivity to a national single window or directly to customs for export and import declarations and to other relevant government websites. For more detailed information, the ISMIT white paper is available here.


The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law is another UN body, which includes among its various areas of work efforts to support MSME trade both directly and indirectly. This includes UNCITRAL’s Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records (MLETR)

UNCITRAL also has legislative guides such as the Key Principles of Business Registry and the recently adopted Legislative Guide on Limited Liability Enterprises, which aims at facilitating the registration of small businesses. In particular, MLETR enables the use of electronic forms of trade documents and is seen as a key enabler of digital trade financing and paperless trade facilitation. 

For more information on MLETR, see our related guide. Finally, UNCITRAL has its own Working Group I: Micro, Small and Medium-Enterprises, where states develop the various guides and address MSME-related issues, including access to credit.


The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

UNIDO, a UN agency with a focus on economic and industrial development, has a number of tools to facilitate MSME business and trade. SME business portals are a single-entry online bridge between governments and businesses where information on regulatory and administrative requirements can be accessed in one place. UNIDO also supports small and medium industry clusters to promote business-to-business linkages. There are also the SME consortia, a voluntary alliance of firms with the objective of promoting the export of goods and services of its members through joint actions.


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

UNCTAD is a UN agency headquartered in Geneva that focuses on developing country trade and investment issues. It has developed a number of tools related to trade, the digital economy, and customs facilitation that policymakers can consider to support MSMEs. For a list of online resources, see the guide on UNCTAD’s MSME resources.


The Universal Postal Union (UPU)

The UPU is the UN agency devoted to cooperation in the postal sector. It has a number of projects and programs geared for MSMEs. Based on the “Exporta Fácil” programme first pioneered by Brazil and later implemented by other South American countries, the UPU has developed the Easy Export Programme, which aims at developing a simplified and harmonized export service for MSMEs by using the postal infrastructure. 

UPU has also collected a list of business support and trade services, with country-specific best practices, that were developed during COVID-19. Many of these resources are for MSMEs. 

Furthermore, the UPU also has various guides and resources related to addressing e-commerce and trade facilitation, which can be helpful for MSMEs and policymakers. A full list of programs and services is available here.

Separately, the UPU also maintains an electronic Customs Declaration System (CDS) that can provide a standard IT system to exchange electronic customs declaration data and other information, facilitating trade for developing countries and MSMEs. More information is available here.


The World Bank

The World Bank Group is one of the Bretton Woods institutions and is a major multilateral development bank. Given the importance of SMEs in the global economy and especially in developing economies, as well as SMEs’ challenges in accessing finance, they have become a key part of the World Bank’s work. For more information on key World Bank SME reports and related websites, see their dedicated page on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMES) Finance.


The World Customs Organization (WCO)

The WCO is an intergovernmental organization focused on customs administration issues. In 2020, the WCO issued a Secretariat Note on Support to SMEs detailing the various initiatives the WCO has undertaken to support SMEs. These include standards and guidance on various issues, from customs-business partnerships to e-commerce. 

Two especially important items of work undertaken by the WCO to support MSMEs include the SAFE Framework of Standards to Secure and Facilitate Global Trade, one pillar of which is the authorized economic operators programme, as well as the separate Model Business Lens Checklist for SMEs. The latter involves a list that policymakers could consider to actively involve SMEs in policymaking.


The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

WIPO is the UN’s intellectual property agency. Its support for MSMEs is at the core of its mission statement “to lead the development of a balanced and effective international IP system that enables innovation and creativity for the benefit of all.” 

WIPO is committed to making IP work for MSMEs across the globe, and to this end they have established the IP and Innovation Ecosystems Sector (IES) and within that the IP for Business Division, which is responsible for WIPO’s programs and activities in support of businesses, especially MSMEs. WIPO also has a number of resources for businesses, see the guide on WIPO’s MSME resources.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) 

The WTO is an intergovernmental body with 164 Members. It has launched a number of initiatives to help MSMEs play a more active role in world trade and maintains a Small Business and Trade webpage. This page contains links to information such as the WTO Working Group on Trade Debt and Finance, government procurement and MSMEs, and intellectual property issues that affect small businesses. It also lists forthcoming and past events. For a full list of WTO online resources, see the guide on the WTO’s MSME resources.


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