Australia is more exposed than most to the global economic downturn sparked by COVID-19. Trade represents nearly 21% of Australia’s GDP, which means that around a fifth of all goods and services (by value) produced in Australia are traded internationally.
With trade creating 1 in 5 jobs and foreign investment 1 in 10, supporting an open multilateral trading system remains in Australia’s national interest and is critical to the recovery of our open and trading-based economy.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a significant role in Australia’s economy, providing 5.6 million jobs and 32% of the 17.6 million jobs held in Australia in the combined private and public sectors. Since 2012, small businesses have accounted for 57% of jobs growth.
Findings from a study conducted by the ECA from March until early June 2020, showed that the five greatest impacts of COVID-19 on SMEs were a reduction in revenue (76%), decreased demand for their products and decreased supply of inputs needed (57%), supply chain disruption problems (46%), lockdown restraints that constrained access to foreign markets (38%) and changes in the company’s workforce (24%) which led to reducing staff hours, lay off staff and finding new ways to operate remotely.
Our consultations with members indicated that the top four export challenges that arose due to COVID-19 in order of relevance were: freight and logistics issues; supply chain disruptions; market access issues and export documentation and digitisation.
SME exporters have experienced unprecedented turmoil and uncertainty in their international operations, yet have also exhibited incredible resilience and a capacity to pivot and adapt. Moving forward, SME’s will need continued support from the government to recover from the challenges posed by COVID-19.
The ECA recommends that the Australian Government consider the following measures to support policy development and provide practical support to SME exporters:
Support SME digitalisation to build rresilience, market access and overcome damaged supply chains.
Support the development of a network of Government led organisations and industry bodies that support SMEs engagement in international trade.
Fast track the digitisation of export documentation and establishment of a single window system.
Continue to pursue a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) agenda and support for SMEs internationalisation at the bilateral and regional level, and embed the needs of SMEs in future FTAs.
Link to the Inquiry into the Implications of the COVID-19 here.