Promoting Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) participation in international trade: An “APEC App Challenge” for Asia’s best coders

From May 18th to 19th, 2017, the Asia-Pacific region’s most talented software and web developers - including from Viet Nam - will travel to Ha Noi to participate in a 24-hour app challenge focused on building products that address a persistent regional challenge: how can more micro and small businesses start exporting to foreign markets?

The “APEC App Challenge” which is an APEC initiative by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Viet Nam, The Asia Foundation, and Google, will be held as one of activities towards the 23rd Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting (MRT 23) in May in Ha Noi. This setting will encourage interactions and learning between APEC policy makers and App Challenge participants from Asia and Pacific region and providea creative class for young software entrepreneurs. 

On May 17th, 2017, teams will travel to Ha Noi to commence a marathon overnight coding session, where coders and designers across APEC attempt to build a new mobile or web solution to one or more key challenges faced by medium, small, and micro enterprise owners who are interested in expanding their businesses through cross-border trade. The panel of expert judges will announce  the winner of the app challenge in the morning of May 19th, 2017. The Minister of Industry and Trade of Viet Nam will present the first prize to the winning team in an official award ceremony at the APEC Symposium on Trade and Innovation in that afternoon.

The topic of APEC App Challenge is particularly important for the Asia-Pacific region, where MSMEs make up roughly 98% of all businesses and employ two-thirds of the region’s labor force. Whereas the internet has dramatically cut down the exporting costs for MSMEs, especially in developed economies, businesses in the region are facing a number of challenges, and the benefits from international trade remain elusive. For example, even though Indonesia’s SMEs contribute nearly 60% of GDP, their share of total exports is only 16%. 

Small business owners in Asia - Pacific developing economies face a number of challenges in attempt to access cross-border trade both in terms of physical/financial infrastructure and local regulations (i.e. non-tariff barriers). Because of that, exports so far have not been an option for medium, small and micro businesses but digital platforms have dramatically lowered the costs of exporting. This means that it is the first time for MSMEs to consider accessing export markets and taking advantage of global value chains (GVCs).

This APEC App Challenge is a unique effort to generate learning and share new ideas across APEC, concurrently building potential solutions to help small businesses overcome existing barriers. Ultimately, the goal of the app challenge is to highlight new ways of promoting inclusive, innovative, and sustainable growth in Asia-Pacific economies and stipulate policies that will promote more innovation to address trade issues.