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Boost growth through international trade and access to finance

Promoting Free and Fair Trade

Promoting Free and Fair Trade

In these turbulent times, now more than ever, Europe should take the lead and uphold its commitment to open and fair trade. This means leading by example and not giving in to calls for protectionism, from proposals for digital single market entrance fees to having to establish a physical presence in the EU to do business.

Many sectors of the European economy, from manufacturing to retail and wholesale, are dependent upon business partners outside the EU. Protectionism will only be met with more protectionism through retaliatory measures, resulting in the closing of export and import markets and limiting consumer choice.

With the current world trading system under threat, it is important to promote and recognise that open trade is an essential tool to create prosperity, employment and social development. Not only are millions of European jobs supported by exports outside the European Union, but also the economic and social gains from trade are spread across global supply chains, which include those businesses located in developing countries.1

It is equally important to remember that smaller businesses are involved in trade. Whether that be via direct exports (currently 21% of smaller businesses in the UK), or indirectly as part of a global value chain (16%), trade is a vitally important driver for smaller businesses, as it enables them to diversify their markets, reach new customers, grow, and become more competitive.2

Policymakers need to do more to help small businesses benefit from and contribute to world trade. The statistics from developed and developing countries alike show that large companies tend to export much more than small ones. From the costs and complexities of complying with rules of origin, lack of transparency in export markets, to issues accessing information, there are many obstacles and costs involved for small businesses looking to export.

1. European Commission, ‘EU exports to the world: effects on employment’, 2018, available here.

2. FSB report, ‘Destination Export’, 2016, available here.

FSB Suggests:

  • Ensuring all future and revised trade agreements contain a comprehensive small business chapter.
  • Helping smaller businesses to internationalise through the sharing of best practices in export support, such as export vouchers and export tax credits.
  • Pushing for comprehensive digital trade commitments in future bi-lateral and multilateral agreements, which support data flows, recognise international technology standards, and prevent restrictions for service providers.
  • Supporting the work of the WTO Informal Working Group on Micro-, Small-, and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) by sharing best practice amongst developed and developing countries.
  • Working with other trading partners to bring about real and effective reform at the WTO.
  • Conducting thorough impact assessments on the potential effects of EU internal market proposals on trading partners when a proposal has a trade element.

Helping Small Firms Flourish through Access to Finance

Helping Small Firms Flourish through Access to Finance

While for a number of years, the UK has outpaced the rest of Europe in terms of its performance in private equity and venture capital investments, smaller businesses in the UK – as across the EU – still largely depend on bank lending for their financing needs.

The financial crisis of 2008 created a very different climate for smaller businesses seeking to borrow. Today, while bank lending continues to dominate, the process of searching for suitable finance has become more complex and varied. There is evidence that the poor conditions for lending at a macro-economic level are being exacerbated at a local level in some parts of the country by bank branch closures.

Many smaller businesses believe credit is relatively scarce. According to FSB’s research, 42 per cent of small business owners say credit availability is very poor (19%) or quite poor (23%). Just 24 per cent feel credit is readily available. These numbers improved between 2012 and 2016, but have weakened in the past two years.1

Smaller businesses that do wish to access external finance face a number of challenges. Security requirements, based on the probability of default, can rule out many younger businesses from accessing traditional debt finance.

In the last ten years, the supply of external finance has improved, although many small business owners would argue that this does not reflect their personal experience. According to FSB’s research, only 13 per cent of small businesses say they have applied for new credit in the past quarter. However, of those that did, 58 per cent have had their credit application approved, and a further 12 per cent say they are awaiting a decision.2

The EU has led the way in recent years via the development of its Capital Markets Union, however policymakers need to do more if small businesses are to benefit from the levels of access to finance seen in the likes of the United States. This work needs to not only focus on supporting the financing methods of the future, but also to improve small businesses’ access to finance via traditional means.

1. FSB report, ‘Going for Growth’, November 2018, available here.

    FSB suggests:

  • Analysing best practices amongst the Member States with regards to open banking and referral systems for businesses that are refused a loan
  • Supporting alternative forms of finance such as lending platforms and crowd investment
  • Designing banking regulations that incentivise lending to small businesses