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Strategic Policy Needed for Pakistan’s SMEs

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The Pulse | Economy | South Asia

Strategic Policy Needed for Pakistan’s SMEs

Implementing a proactive strategic policy for Pakistani SMEs is imperative, as the performance of domestic industries is the biggest advertisement for outsiders to follow suit and invest in the country. 

Strategic Policy Needed for Pakistan’s SMEs
Credit: Depositphotos

In Pakistan’s intricate economic landscape, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) form the fabric that sustains the entire infrastructure. Their significance cannot be overstated. SMEs represent around 90 percent of businesses globally; there are around 5.2 million in Pakistan. They contribute 40 percent to the GDP, account for 30 percent of exports, and employ over 80 percent of the non-agricultural workforce in Pakistan. However, despite their critical role, economic inefficiencies significantly challenge their progress and realization of SMEs’ potential.

A Competition Commission of Pakistan report has revealed the obstacles facing SMEs in the country. Myriad hurdles impede SMEs from thriving, from a lack of financial services to technological stagnation and a convoluted legal system. To unlock their full potential, it is imperative to implement an effective, well-designed, and applied strategic policy for SMEs.

First and foremost among SME challenges is limited financial access. Many rely on traditional, informal credit systems, and face major difficulties in obtaining formal credit, as highlighted in a 2022 World Bank report. Policy interventions such as credit guarantees, lower interest rates, and improved financial literacy can facilitate access to credit. Successful initiatives like the Punjab Rozgar Scheme and the Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Scheme offer promising avenues for SMEs, particularly in green and sustainable sectors, and yet more should be focused on to achieve a targeted goal.

Second, technology innovation remains a weak area for local SMEs, especially small enterprises where technological advancement severely lags. Initiatives supporting research and development can incentivize SMEs to adopt innovative technologies, enhancing productivity, competitiveness, and market expansion.

Consequently, in January 2023 news broke regarding collaboration between Pakistan and China to establish a semiconductor zone in Pakistan, aimed at boosting the chip manufacturing sector. But there have been no recent updates.

The initiative was propelled by the realization that Pakistan relies heavily on imported semiconductor chips, which were affected by the global shortage induced by the pandemic. Efforts were made to bridge the gap, including initiatives by companies like Rapid Silicon and government funding for chip design centers in universities. The Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA) has been engaged in strategic cooperation with Chinese counterparts, given China’s significant position in hardware component manufacturing. However, recent updates have not specified further developments or progress on this collaboration.

Furthermore, small-scale semiconductor firms can benefit from the National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP) Karachi by gaining access to state-of-the-art facilities and research infrastructure. NASTP is creating a technology ecosystem by facilitating start-ups and SMEs through its techno-parks development. This initiative provides SMEs in Pakistan’s semiconductor sector with opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange fostering innovation and technological advancement.

Third, regulatory hurdles further impede SME growth. Complex business rules and excessive bureaucracy discourage expansion. Pakistan’s low ranking in the World Bank Doing Business Index 2019 underscores the need for reform. Streamlining regulations and implementing a one-window system for bureaucratic procedures can reduce compliance costs and redirect SME focus towards core activities.

Women entrepreneurs represent a crucial segment of the business environment. Despite being fully capable of working, only 21 percent of women in Pakistan participate in the workforce, which is lower than the global average of 39 percent. Enhancing support for female entrepreneurship aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 5, pertaining to gender equality and empowerment, fostering socioeconomic development through education, finance, and formal banking channels. Therefore, to address Pakistan’s distressing labor force participation rate for women, a system that supports female entrepreneurship has to be developed.

Looking at successful models from countries like Malaysia offers several insights. Malaysia’s focus on technology, innovation, and exports, exemplified by initiatives such as the National Entrepreneur SME Development Council and SME Master Plan, is a compelling model. The Master Plan’s diverse funding mechanisms, including venture capital and microfinancing, offer a blueprint for Pakistan to bolster its SME framework.

Implementing a proactive strategic policy for Pakistani SMEs is imperative, as the performance of domestic industries is the biggest advertisement for outsiders to follow suit and invest in the country. Pakistan’s SMEs play a critical role in the economy, but they face significant challenges hindering their growth. Addressing issues such as financial access, technology innovation, regulatory hurdles, and support for women entrepreneurs is essential. By implementing targeted policies and drawing inspiration from successful models like Malaysia, Pakistan can foster a conducive environment for SME development, driving economic growth and prosperity.