By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
MORE than 75 per cent of companies in the Bahamas are small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) chairman said yesterday, in urging the Government to pass the draft SME legislation "in the shortest possible timeframe".
Speaking at the opening of the International Trade and Financing Seminar hosted by the BCCEC and Us Embassy, Chester Cooper said a lack of access to funding - and operating with inadequate capital - "cut to the core" of the many challenges facing SMEs and SME development in the Bahamas.
Mr Cooper said: "The importance of SMEs cannot be understated. Greater than 75 per cent of companies in the Bahamas are SMEs.
"The capacity of small businesses to be the leader in employment creation is evidenced in Singapore, where 72 per cent of employment is by small businesses. The Government of the Bahamas has cited a need to create an estimated 43,000 jobs. If each small business is enabled to hire one additional employee, this could put a dent in unemployment in a relatively short period of time.
"It is therefore with this backdrop that I urge the Government to pass the draft SME legislation in the shortest possible timeframe. Yes, more funding is required. However, the technical strengthening and co-ordination of efforts of the various agencies of Government tasked to support SMEs is critical. A continued fragmented approach will not achieve the desired impact."
Mr Cooper said SMEs can seize greater entrepreneurial opportunities when financial products and services, designed according to their demands, are available to them.
The BCCEC's chief executive, Winston Rolle, said: "What this forum does is provide persons with the opportunity to look at products and services out of the US, and how the funding can be done on that side of the border as opposed to this side.
"From what I understand, the requirements are pretty low-hanging fruit to accomplish, so that more and more SMEs can participate to access this kind of capital. We have had a good response thus far. We have approximately 70 persons registered."
The US Embassy's charge' d'affaires, John Dinkleman, said there were endless opportunities for business development between the Bahamas and the US.
"According to the Department of Commerce, from 2008 to 2010 the Bahamas ranked as the 48th largest US export market, bigger than New Zealand, Greece and Finland, each with a population ten times of the Bahamas," he said.
"Additionally, as part of the national export initiative, the Export Import Bank is expanding its efforts to work with small businesses by creating a new facility to provide up to $2 billion per year in trade finance to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Last year, the US Export Import Bank approved $32.7 billion in loans, with the bulk going to small and medium-sized businesses, often with little documentation. It facilitates loans to businesses that import US-made products through guarantees, which allow the buyer to obtain financing benefits with terms similar to those of US-businesses.
The US Embassy in Nassau is co-sponsoring two 'International Trade and Financing Seminars' to be hosted by the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) and the Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce. The latter seminar will be held at the Pelican Bay Resort at Lucaya in Freeport May 24-25.