With Global Trade Frictions Rising, Asia Businesses Are Pushing for More Influence

With global trade frictions rising and lots of new pacts being drawn up, Asian small businesses risk losing out if they don’t change.

The Asia Business Trade Association -- a non-profit group based in Singapore and representing more than 300 small- to medium-sized enterprises across 19 economies -- wants to ensure that doesn’t happen. The group is linking up governments and businesses to work out how best to implement the trade agreements, giving smaller firms access to decision makers in a way they didn’t previously have.

In the aftermath of Brexit, the U.S.’s rejection of multilateral trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and growing protectionism threats, the business community has learnt that it needs a better way to get its message across.

“We have not done enough to work with governments to figure out how do you mitigate against the downsides of trade,” said Steve Okun, ABTA’s president and founder of APAC Advisors, a government relations and policy consultancy. “The No. 1 thing you can do is work with the SMEs.”

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ABTA is also helping businesses to cope with fast-moving economic shifts such as e-commerce and fintech.

“The biggest risk is the risk of us not responding to disruption in time,” said Ho Meng Kit, ABTA’s chairman and chief executive officer of the Singapore Business Federation. 

“Technology -- you can’t keep it away. If we don’t respond, there will be pressure politically and socially.”

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