Preparing to load PDF file. please wait...

0 of 0


Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level
Paris, 7-8 June 2017

Enhancing the Contributions of SMEs in a Global and Digitalised Economy

1. SMEs are essential for delivering more inclusive globalisation and growth ...........................................5
2. SMEs make diverse contributions to economic and social well-being, which could be further enhanced ......................................................................................................................................................6
SMEs play a key role in national economies around the world, generating employment and value added and contributing to innovation. SMEs are central to the efforts to achieve environmental sustainability and more inclusive growth. However, these contributions vary widely across firms and across countries and sectors. Better access to global markets and knowledge networks can strengthen SMEs’ contributions, but trade and investment barriers undermine SME participation, and poor physical and ICT infrastructure prevents SMEs from operating efficiently and accessing international markets at competitive costs. Digitalisation offers new opportunities for SMEs to participate in the global economy, but SMEs are lagging behind in the digital transition and disruptive effects need to be considered.
3. The business environment is critical to enhance SME participation in and benefits from an open and integrated economy....................................................................................................................................14
Certain features of the institutional and regulatory framework result in disproportionate burdens on SMEs. Inefficient insolvency regimes limit business dynamism, restructuring of viable firms and access to external finance by SMEs. High costs of tax compliance fall disproportionately on small and young firms. Public sector integrity and transparency, public administration efficiency, and the quality of public services are essential for a level playing field.
4. The ability to access strategic resources is critical for SME competitiveness .......................................15
For many start-ups and SMEs, access to finance in the appropriate forms is hampered by a range of demand- and supply-side obstacles. Skills shortages, poor management practices and workforce training limit SME productivity and innovation. Access to public procurement is generally more difficult for SMEs than for large firms.
5. A cross-cutting perspective on SMEs is needed ....................................................................................17
An OECD Strategy for SMEs can support policy making in OECD and non-OECD countries. REFERENCES ..............................................................................................................................................19

Figures Figure 1. SMEs are the main source of jobs in the business sector ........................................................6 Figure 2. SMEs are less connected than large firms to international knowledge networks....................7 Figure 3. There are large differences in the SME contribution to employment and value added across countries, particularly in manufacturing ....................................................................................................10 Figure 4. SMEs account for a larger share of value added in international trade when indirect linkages are taken into account ................................................................................................................................11 Figure 5. SMEs lag behind in the adoption of more sophisticated digital technologies .......................13 Figure 6. The gap in credit costs between SMEs and large enterprises has widened ...........................16


The figures in this document use ISO codes (ISO3) for country names as listed below.


Australia Austria Belgium Brazil Bulgaria Canada Switzerland Chile Colombia Croatia Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland France Hungary Germany Greece Iceland Ireland Israel


Italy Japan Korea Latvia Lithuania Luxembourg Mexico Netherlands New Zealand Norway Poland Portugal Russian Federation Slovak Republic Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey United Kingdom United States

DEFINING SMEs FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES It should be noted that a standard international definition of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) does not exist. SMEs are defined differently in the legislation across countries, in particular because the dimension “small” and “medium” of a firm are relative to the size of the domestic economy. For statistical purposes, the OECD refers to SMEs as the firms employing up to 249 persons, with the following breakdown: micro (1 to 9), small (10 to 49) and medium (50-249). This provides for the best comparability given the varying data collection practices across countries, noting that some countries use different conventions.
NOTE: The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.



This document provides a synthesis of the current state of knowledge about small and medium-

sized enterprises (SMEs) and their contributions to economic and social well-being. It describes the diverse

characteristics of SMEs and the opportunities and challenges they face in a globalised and digital economy.

It also identifies areas where knowledge or data gaps exist and where more analysis is needed. The

document presents the case for launching the future development of an OECD Strategy for SMEs, to help

Members and Partners take a coherent approach to policies which impact and/or target SMEs, including

across levels of government; enhance policy synergies; and address potential trade-offs. The future

development and implementation of an OECD Strategy would help governments level the playing field for

SMEs and enable them to enhance their contributions to inclusive growth in different economic and social



SMEs are essential for delivering more inclusive globalisation and growth


In many countries, and in particular OECD countries, governments are facing the challenges of

low growth, weak trade and investment, and rising, or persistently high inequality (OECD, 2016a). They

also face a growing dissatisfaction among citizens with the current state of affairs, which is also

manifesting itself in the form of a backlash against globalisation and technological change. Against this

backdrop, there is a need to create the conditions that enable the benefits of open markets and

technological progress to be enhanced and shared more broadly across the economy and society.


SMEs are key players in the economy and the wider eco-system of firms. Enabling them to adapt

and thrive in a more open environment and participate more actively in the digital transformation is

essential for boosting economic growth and delivering a more inclusive globalisation. Across countries at

all levels of development, SMEs have an important role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development

Goals (SDGs), by promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, providing employment and

decent work for all, promoting sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation, and reducing income



However, boosting SME potential for participating in and reaping the benefits of a globalised and

digital economy depends to a great degree on conducive framework conditions and healthy competition.

Due to constraints internal to the firm, SMEs are disproportionately affected by market failures and

barriers and inefficiencies in the business environment and policy sphere. SMEs’ contributions also depend

on their access to strategic resources, such as skills, knowledge networks, and finance, and on public

investments in areas such as education and training, innovation and infrastructure. Furthermore, for a large

number of SMEs, a conducive environment for the transfer of business ownership or management

represents an important condition for ensuring business viability over time, with implications for jobs,

investment and growth.


These issues have gained prominence in the policy debate, as SMEs in some countries continue

to struggle with the prolonged impact of the 2007-08 global crisis, which hit new and small businesses

disproportionately and marked a widening of the gap in productivity growth between SMEs and large firms

(OECD, 2017a, 2017b). This gap is an important driver of the observed rise in inequality, including wage

inequality, in many countries (OECD, 2016a).


The SME policy space is complex. It comprises framework conditions; broad policies that impact

SMEs; and specific targeted policies. These areas often cut across the boundaries of ministries and

government agencies, as well as across levels of government. Since SMEs are often embedded in local

eco-systems, which represent their primary source of knowledge, skills, finance, business opportunities and

networks, it is also important to consider factors affecting framework conditions at the local level, and how

policies developed at national level are tailored to local conditions, as well as how they coordinate with

policies that are shaped at the regional or territorial level (OECD, 2016e). Furthermore, policy strategies


should take into account the changes in regulations, markets and technologies that occur across borders which may affect SMEs’ opportunities and performance.


The sections below examine the opportunities and challenges SMEs face in a global and digital

economy, building on the OECD’s large body of analysis conducted across OECD Committees on SMEs,

including on finance, innovation, taxation, regulation, digitalisation, employment, skills, trade,

internationalisation and global value chains (GVCs), environment, among others, as well as on its unique

statistical expertise. Taken together, these findings present a strong case for developing a cross-cutting

OECD Strategy for SMEs, which can advance the debate and catalyse improvements in framework

conditions and SME policies in Members and non-Members to deliver more sustainable and inclusive



SMEs make diverse contributions to economic and social well-being, which could be further


SMEs play a key role in national economies around the world, generating employment and value added…


In the OECD area, SMEs are the predominant form of enterprise, accounting for approximately

99% of all firms. They provide the main source of employment, accounting for about 70% of jobs on

average, and are major contributors to value creation, generating between 50% and 60% of value added on

average (Figure 1) (OECD, 2016b). In emerging economies, SMEs contribute up to 45% of total

employment and 33% of GDP. When taking the contribution of informal businesses into account, SMEs

contribute to more than half of employment and GDP in most countries irrespective of income levels (IFC,

2010). In addition, SME development can contribute to economic diversification and resilience. This is

especially relevant for resource-rich countries that are particularly vulnerable to commodity price


Figure 1. SMEs are the main source of jobs in the business sector

Percentage of all persons employed, total business economy, 2014 or latest available year

Notes: For Canada, Switzerland, Israel, Japan, Korea, the United States and the Russian Federation, data do not include nonemployers. Data for Korea and Mexico are based on establishments. Data for the United Kingdom exclude an estimate of 2.6 million small unregistered businesses. For Australia, Canada and Turkey the size class 1-9 refers to 1-19. Source: OECD (2017), Entrepreneurship at a Glance 2017, OECD Publishing, Paris, forthcoming.

… and contributing to innovation


The contribution of SMEs to innovation dynamics has increased in recent decades, as income

growth, more niched market demand and changing technologies have enabled SMEs to strengthen their

comparative advantages and reduced the structural disadvantages stemming from resource constraints and

limited ability to reap economies of scale.


While not all SMEs are innovative, new and small firms are often the driving force behind the

sort of radical innovations that are important for economic growth, since they can work outside of

dominant paradigms, exploit technological or commercial opportunities that have been neglected by more

established companies or enable the commercialisation of knowledge that would otherwise remain un-

commercialised in universities and research organisations (Baumol, 2002; OECD, 2010a). For instance,

SMEs account for about 20% of patents, one measure of innovation, in biotechnology-related fields in

Europe (Eurostat, 2014). SMEs also contribute to value creation by adopting innovation generated

elsewhere, and adapting it to different contexts through incremental changes, and by supplying new or

niche products which respond to diverse customer needs. They also contribute by serving locations that do

not have a large enough scale to attract larger firms.


The knowledge-based economy, a rise in non-technological innovation and the emergence of

open or network-based modes of innovation have also enabled new and small firms to increase their

contributions to innovation (OECD, 2010a). Innovation by SMEs is largely influenced by knowledge

spillovers, access to networks and opportunities to partner with other players, including larger enterprises.

Globalisation has increased the importance of cross-border collaboration in innovation – both in obtaining

inputs for innovation (ideas, finance, skills, technologies) from abroad and in exploiting its outputs

(products and services, patents, licenses, etc.) in foreign markets. However, a key challenge for many

SMEs is to identify and connect to appropriate knowledge partners and networks at the local, national and

global levels, as well as to develop appropriate skills and management practices for co-ordinating and

integrating knowledge created by external partners with in-house practices and innovation processes

(Figure 2) (OECD, 2013b).

Figure 2. SMEs are less connected than large firms to international knowledge networks
Firms engaged in international collaboration for innovation, by firm size, as a percentage of product and/or processinnovating firms in each size category, 2010-12

Source: OECD (2015), OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris, based on Eurostat Community Innovation Survey (CIS-2012) and national data sources, June 2015.

SMEs are central to the efforts to achieve environmental sustainability…


SME participation in the transition to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption is

crucial for the greening of economic development. Although the individual environmental footprint of

small businesses may be low, their aggregate impacts can, in some sectors, exceed that of large companies.

Reducing the environmental impact of SMEs by achieving and going beyond environmental compliance

with existing rules and regulations in both manufacturing and services, is a key factor for success in the

green transformation. This is particularly urgent for SMEs in the manufacturing sector, which accounts for

a large part of the world’s consumption of resources, air and water pollution and generation of waste

(OECD, 2013a).


The green transition also opens up business opportunities for SMEs as important suppliers of

green goods and services. In many OECD countries, innovative SMEs play a pivotal role in the eco-

industry and clean-tech markets. For instance, in the United Kingdom and Finland, SMEs represent

respectively over 90% and 70% of clean technology businesses (Carbon Trust, 2013; ETLA, 2015). SMEs

are especially well positioned to seize opportunities of greener supply chains in local clean tech markets,

which may be unattractive or impenetrable for large global firms, including in emerging economies and

low-income countries (IBRD, 2014). Furthermore, small “green entrepreneurs”, driven by financial profit

combined with environmental consciousness, can drive a bottom-up transformation and job creation, by

developing new business models and pioneering green business practices that influence mass markets and

eventually are adopted by the wider business community (OECD, 2013a).


However, the willingness and capability of SMEs to adopt sustainable practices and seize green

business opportunities often face size-related resource constraints, skill deficits and knowledge limitations.

Environmentally sustainable improvements in SMEs are often held back by perceived technical

complexities, burdens and costs, as well as lack of awareness about financially attractive opportunities.

Furthermore, a lack of appropriate skills and expertise often prevents SMEs from acting upon win-win

opportunities, and resource constraints often lead to SMEs to be more risk-averse and less willing to invest

in new technologies than larger firms (Mazur, 2012; EaP Green, 2016).

… and more inclusive growth


SMEs create job opportunities across geographic areas and sectors, employing broad segments of

the labour force, including low-skilled workers, and providing opportunities for skills development. They

also help support their employees’ access to health care and social services. SMEs that generate jobs and

value added are therefore an important channel for inclusion and poverty reduction, especially but not

exclusively in emerging and low-income economies. In this regard, upgrading productivity in a large

population of small businesses, including in traditional segments and the informal economy, can help

governments achieve both economic growth and social inclusion objectives, including escaping from low

productivity traps and improving the quality of jobs for low-skilled workers (OECD, 2009, 2017b).


Small businesses can also represent an effective tool to address societal needs through the market

and provide public goods and services. This is the case of social enterprises, which bring innovative

solutions to the problems of poverty, social exclusion and unemployment, and fill gaps in general-interest

service delivery (EU/OECD, 2016). In many countries, the economic weight of the social and solidarity

economy, in which social enterprises operate, has increased steadily in recent years, including in the

aftermath of the global crisis. For instance, in France, in 2014, the social economy accounted for 10% of

the GDP. In Belgium, over 2008-14, employment in social enterprises increased by 12% and accounted, in

2015, for 17% of total private employment (EU, 2016). In the United Kingdom, in 2015, 41% of social

enterprises had created jobs compared to 22% of SMEs (SEUK, 2015).



In addition, entrepreneurial opportunities can represent an important channel for economic and

social participation and upward mobility, by allowing disadvantaged or marginalized groups, including

young people, women, seniors, migrants, ethnic minorities and the disabled, to create their own

opportunities to participate in the economy.


In many countries, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is increasingly viewed as a way for

businesses, including SMEs, to contribute to societal goals. By committing to sound labour and

environmental practices and good community relations, small businesses can contribute to sustainable and

inclusive development, particularly at the local level. CSR can also help improve the image customers,

investors and other stakeholders have of the business, and enhance their capacity to attract and retain

qualified and motivated employees.

However, these contributions vary widely across firms…


Firm heterogeneity matters for innovation, productivity, job creation and inclusive growth. While

large differences exist between SMEs and large firms, the SME population itself is typically composed of

very diverse businesses, in terms of age, size, ownership, business models, and entrepreneurs’ profile and



SMEs play an important role in the wider eco-system of firms. Start-ups and young firms, which

are generally small or micro firms, are the primary source of net job creation in many countries.

Furthermore, business dynamics are an important driver of productivity growth (OECD, 2016b). However,

the majority of new enterprises either fail in the first years of activity, or remain very small (OECD,

2016c). High-growth firms of different ages and sectors also contribute disproportionately to job creation

(OECD, 2010b).


Established medium-sized enterprises that innovate and scale up are the driving force behind

growth in many OECD economies, often ensuring the coordination, upgrading and participation in supply

chains of smaller suppliers. For instance, in Switzerland, medium-sized enterprises (50-249 employees)

represent about 4% of the business population, but account for 23% of employment and 25% of value

added (OECD, 2016b). There are also many viable small enterprises in mid or low-tech sectors which are

embedded in competitive local production systems, and which generate innovation, largely incremental,

and contribute to employment, social inclusion and territorial cohesion. At the same time, many small

enterprises do not go beyond small local markets. These firms, which produce limited innovation and do

not have strong growth aspirations, often remain small throughout their life cycle.

… and across countries and sectors.


SMEs are a dynamic and evolving population. Their composition varies widely across countries

and sectors, with implications for their ability to thrive in and contribute to an open and digitalised

economy. In all countries, micro-enterprises (up to 9 employees) dominate the business landscape,

accounting for 70% to 95% of all firms. Nevertheless, significant cross-country differences are observed in

the contribution of micro-enterprises to employment and value added. For instance, in the services sector,

their share in employment ranges from more than 60% in Greece to 20% in Denmark and Germany, while

their share in value added ranges from about 45% in Luxembourg to 15% in Switzerland (OECD, 2016b).


SME performance also varies across sectors. In services, SMEs account for 60% or more of total

employment and value added in nearly all countries. In contrast, in manufacturing, although relatively few

in number, large firms provide a disproportionate contribution to employment and value added, in large

part reflecting increasing returns to scale from more capital-intensive production, as well as entry barriers

related to investment. In some countries, such as Germany and Mexico, large manufacturing groups