On 11th February 2015, CUTS International hosted a National Consultation to deliberate on the findings of a study that was undertaken with support from the Asia Pacific Regional Centre of the United Nations Development Programme. It is entitled Regional Trade Potential and Associated Non-Tariff Barriers, With Special Focus on Women-Owned/Led/Engaged Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (WMSMEs).
The objective of the study was two-fold. First, it sought to identify the constraints faced by Indian WMSMEs in operating and expanding their businesses including issues related to accessing regional markets such as non-tariff/trade facilitation-linked barriers. Secondly, it was to provide policy and programme recommendations to ease/manage the constraints identified. More than 40 key stakeholders including government officials, representatives of WMSMEs, academics and exporters were present at the meeting.
The meeting was opened by Bipul Chatterjee, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International. He noted that while India has experienced unprecedented economic growth over the past two decades, women’s participation in the economy has seen a steady decline over the years. “Indeed at 27 per cent, India has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in South Asia”, he said. He highlighted that most research on gender and trade linkages focuses on women in wage employment and assesses how their employment and income are affected through an increase or decrease in exports and imports. “The importance of this study, therefore, lay on its emphasis on women as owners and managers and not only as wage earners”, he added.
Jaco Cilliers, Country Director, United Nations Development Programme, India, gave some remarks on the importance of this study. He noted that it was a part of a larger project being undertaken by the UNDP in a number of South Asian countries including Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He discussed the importance of efforts to increase women’s participation in the economy given that their inclusion plays a critical role in promoting inclusive and sustainable economic development.
The special remarks were given by L. Savithri, Director (Economic, Trade and Finance Division), SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Secretariat. She noted that there were on-going discussions in SAARC regarding increasing trade liberalisation within the region and highlighted that these discussions included addressing the issue of sensitive lists that often include products that women are heavily involved in. She noted that while gender was not an issue that the trade division focused on, gender is discussed as a cross-cutting issue within SAARC.
Following the opening, Arundhati Kulshreshtha and Chenai Mukumba presented the findings of the study. They began with an overview of the status of MSMEs in India, with a specific focus on WMSMEs, and then delved into the results of a cluster-based survey that was conducted on 300 WMSMEs across the country. The study focused on three sectors, namely: apparel, coir and handlooms. The presentation highlighted the importance of more gender-specific policies to cater to the various needs of WMSMEs in India, but also the need to clearly define WMSMEs within the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act in order to emphasise its importance within the legal framework as well as determine the scope of beneficiaries.
It was followed by a panel discussion entitled: Building a Cohesive Domestic Environment for WMSMEs in India, chaired by Sucharita Eashwar, Managing Director India, WEConnect International. She began by sharing that the involvement of women in the labour force is important to us all because if all women in the Indian economy were fully employed, the Indian economy could grow by an additional 4.2 per cent annually. Ratna Sudarhsan, National Fellow, National University of Educational Planning & Administration, highlighted that in spite of all the attention paid to the formal economy, the informal sector better depicts the domestic reality on the ground. She noted that within the MSME sector there is enormous heterogeneity and we have to think about contextual-specific issues while seeking the sector’s growth and expansion.
Gagain Rai, Chairman, Handloom Export Promotion Council, spoke on the role of the HEPC in promoting handloom exports. He noted that while the HEPC does not have a single policy for women entrepreneurs per se, it has a number of initiatives from which WMSMEs can benefit. Rajni Aggarwal, President, Federation of Indian Women Entrepreneurs, spoke on women entrepreneurship in India and highlighted a number of issues that WMSMEs face in registering as well as accessing various benefits as provided by the government and other relevant institutions. N. K. Maini, Deputy Managing Director, Small Industries Development Bank of India, spoke on the domestic financial constraints faced by women entrepreneurs. He highlighted the role that SIDBI plays in making finances available to women entrepreneurs and noted various initiatives that they have implemented in this regard.
The second panel discussion was entitled: Exploring WMSME Export Opportunities in SAARC. D. K. Singh, Additional Director General of Foreign Trade (Policy), opened the session with an overview of the various schemes in the National Foreign Trade Policy of India to promote exports and highlighted that the upcoming Policy will have a more focused approach to trade promotion. He noted, however, that India’s trade policy is not gender-specific. Mona Gupta, Officer on Special Duty, DISHA-Apparel Export Promotion Council, noted that the AEPC also does not have gender-specific policies and that many issues faced by WMSMEs needed to be addressed at a socio-cultural level. She highlighted that the apparel sector is a demand-driven sector and that within the SAARC region there is much potential for developing value chains due to the complementarity of goods produced within the region and similarity in consumption patterns.
Shruti Agarwal, Business Advisor, Self Employed Women’s Association, spoke on connecting WMSMEs to supply chains. She highlighted that cutting out the middlemen made it more profitable for the producers to benefit directly from trade. Anuja Narain, Executive Committee Member, SAARC Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs, discussed a number of issues that exporters are facing while sourcing goods from MSMEs including timeliness, quality and productivity.
Other than taking forward the findings of the study at various policy and programme levels such as the MSME policy, procurement policy, trade policy, in future, CUTS International will take a deeper look at the functioning of this sector so as to highlight its contribution to inclusive and sustainable growth of India
For more information, please contact:
Chenai Mukumba, +91-90010-55178, firstname.lastname@example.org
Arundhati Kulashrestha, +91-77280-66163, email@example.com