The Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility (WB EDIF) held its second SME Forum on 7 May 2019 in Sarajevo. The event was hosted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), in the margins of its Annual meeting.
The EDIF Forum was attended by more than 250 representatives of the public and private sector, Chambers of commerce, Financing institutions and bilateral donors, coming from the EU, the region and beyond.
Mirko Šarović, Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic relations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, opened the forum by stressing the importance of the EU political engagement and substantial assistance for the SMEs in the region, which represent 99 % of all businesses.
In its first part, the SMEs forum provided the opportunity for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), member of EDIF, to officially present the recommendations from the 2019 SME Policy Index for the Western Balkans and Turkey.
When welcoming the participants Katarína Mathernová (Deputy Director-General, European Commission) said: "The SME Policy Index provides valuable recommendations to policy makers of the region. The SMEs are the center of the EU external policies as they are the backbone not only of the EU’s but also of our partners’ economies. To scale up and grow they need concrete advice on access to international financing and markets”
The second part of the forum explored in an interactive way the first-hand experiences of local companies and banks, Chambers of commerce and International Financial Institutions on the topic of access to finance and opportunities for the businesses to start and flourish. The participants of the SME event delivered several messages:
- EDIF’s equity and guarantee instruments contribute as pioneers to the development of the non-banking finance in the region and incentivise the local intermediaries to support profitable businesses, which are perceived as risky by the banks. The private sector needs even more of this type of support.
- The Western Balkans companies and Chambers of commerce face similar challenges when trying to operate and support the trade across border. The dialogue between the public and the private sector should be further enhanced as to shape key policy reforms for the benefit of the regional competitiveness, growth and integration. Good practices and experience should be further shared within the region;
- The local banking institutions are liquid enough to provide finance to the local businesses but their credit standards are very rigid as to become an option for the younger companies in new or non-traditional sectors. The banks have to change their attitude – avoid taking decision based on the (credit) history only, and become forward looking instead.
- The innovative companies and start-ups are key for the competitiveness of the region. At the same time, they represent exactly the group of business considered as “risky” by the local banks. Special support, institutional changes and new approaches are needed to tackle the problems related to access to finance.
- There is huge potential for regional trade, which is still unfortunately untapped. The internationalization of the businesses faces many regulatory obstacles, and trading within the region is still very time consuming and expensive (5 to 8 times more compared to the trade within the EU).
The SME forum was preceded by a WB EDIF operational meeting, which took stock of the instruments and the programmes deployed under the platform.
The Western Balkans Enterprise Development and Innovation Facility, funded by the EU in 2012, aims at improving access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region. This is the only investment platform of its kind, leveraging upon the expertise of 27 international, regional and local market players including representatives from the six beneficiaries themselves and the Chambers of commerce. The facility aims to complement existing national, EU and international instruments in the region available for private sector development and fill-in the existing capacity and funding gaps. The EU 150 million € contribution to the platform is transformed into ca. 800 million euro of investments at the disposal of the Western Balkans SMEs. WB EDIF supported more than 4000 businesses and 78 000 jobs so far, provided 2770 of loans and financed 33 equity-type of investments in the entire region.
- Publication date
- 7 May 2019
- Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations