(Thailand) – On August 31, the US-ASEAN Business Council (the Council), in partnership with the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion of Thailand, conducted a webinar for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Thailand. The event was part of the Council’s broader webinar series in response to the COVID-19 crisis. More than 150 owners and executives of Thai SMEs participated in the webinar session themed, “Supporting Thailand SMEs’ Digitalization Amid COVID-19.”
The webinar was officially opened by Ambassador Michael Michalak, Senior Vice President and Regional Managing Director of the Council, Assoc. Professor. Dr. Veerapong Malai, Director General of the Office of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion (OSMEP) of Thailand, and Ms. Thapanee Kiatphaibool, Deputy Governor for Tourism Products and Business of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
“This is a crucial time for SMEs to make the transformation to digital. In fact, this is a crucial time for all businesses to transform, but the urgency for SMEs has never been more important since they make up the backbone of Thailand’s economy,” said Amb. Michalak his opening remarks. “SMEs are particularly more vulnerable to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, about 100,000 SMEs in Thailand may face closure while about 2.7 million small businesses and 400,000 medium enterprises are having trouble continuing their businesses. These numbers raise great concerns given the important role Thai SMEs play in the overall economy,” he continued.
“SMEs are vital to Thailand’s economy because they are a major source of employment, however there are limitations in doing business for several reasons. From OSMEP’s statistics, in 2020, more than 3.14 million SMEs in Thailand have created employment for 12.71 million people or 71.70 percent of the country’s employment and contributed to 34.2 percent of the country’s GDP with a value of 5.38 trillion baht. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology and digital commerce are not only an option, but one of the essential keys for business to overcome challenges. From this point forward, SMEs are cannot just be flexible and resilient, they need to master digital skills in order to compete in the next normal,” said Dr. Veerapong in his remarks.
The webinar consisted of two sessions featuring prominent speakers from the Thai Government and from US-ABC member companies who shared their insights to help Thai SMEs, particularly through digital transformation. During the first session, Dr. Wimonkan Kosumas, Deputy Director General of OSMEP, shared measures on behalf of the Thai government to support SMEs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In her session, Dr. Wimonkan highlighted, SME sector has responded positively to government stimulus packages. We witnessed gradual recovery of SME sector since the 4th quarter of last year, including export. Some sectors particularly education service, retail and construction have already recorded moderate growth compared to last year. Moreover, SME entrepreneurs in general have been highly efficient in adopting digital solutions and transformation to cope with next normal business models. Although, SME recovery was temporarily disrupted by the most recent third wave covid-19 lockdown, it is expected to resumed by the last quarter this year with the push from new stimulus packages that will encourage domestic spending. Furthermore, Government Procurement set aside quota for SMEs has already injected 300,000-million-baht liquidity into SME sector. Last but not least, Rao Thiew Doi Kan and Kon La Krieng measures to be implemented later this year will further boost consumer spending which will definitely benefit SMEs.
The first session also included a presentation from Mr. Wittawat Lamsam, Director of International Cooperation Department of OSMEP, on promoting ASEAN programs available for Thai SMEs that can ultimately boost productivity, including the newly launched ASEAN Access platform. Ms. Nugraheni Utami from US-ABC also presented the ASEAN SME Academy platform, a free online learning platform available for SMEs.
This webinar provided an important opportunity for collaborative discussion in empowering Thai SMEs to understand and adapt to digital technologies in the spirit of embracing a more digitally inclusive ASEAN. Maximizing ASEAN’s digital potential will accelerate intra-regional trade and encourage Thai SMEs to compete globally. However, an increasingly digital world also carries certain challenges such as inadequate protection systems for both consumers and sellers, lack of trust in digital payments, and minimum digital literacy. It is important for Thailand SMEs to adapt by learning various digital technologies and skills to survive during this crisis and in turn, optimize benefits.
The webinar was also supported by US-ABC member companies Facebook and Visa who shared presentations during the second session on U.S. private sector initiatives to assist Thai SMEs in harnessing tools of the digital economy. Facebook invited Ms. Sudaporn Woraporn, Director of the Tourism Marketing Learning Division from the Tourism Authority of Thailand, to discuss with Ms. Ing Sirikulbordee, Public Policy Manager of Facebook Thailand, their collaborative program around digital transformation. In addition, Ms. Amp Vajrabhaya, Client Partner of Facebook Thailand, gave a short training on how Facebook products help Thai SMEs adapting digitalization.
“We remain committed to work with various key stakeholders to help businesses in Thailand grow and thrive in its digital economy,” said Ms. Ing Sirikulbordee in her session.
Later, Ms. Sirirat Thiengtham, Senior Director of Merchant, Sales, and Acquiring of Visa Thailand, explained the importance of digitalization for small business and the advantages of digital payments. Disruptions in the way of work caused by the pandemic only emphasize further the need for continuous innovation, cooperation, and adaptability.
“We’re pleased to be a part of the USABC webinar to share insights about the changing trends in eCommerce and the benefits of digital payments that are fast, convenient and secure. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on how we live, work, and shop. It has had a massive impact on how people across the world buy and sell goods. Consumers across different generations are shifting to digital commerce. Visa has been working with a number of partners, across a multitude of industries, to enable access to digital payments and our participation in today’s webinar is a testament to our commitment to helping everyone, everywhere in their digital transformation journey,” said Mr. Suripong Tantiyanon, Country Manager for Visa Thailand.
Finally, Dr. Suthikorn Kingkaew, Advisor of KBU Research Institute and moderator for both sessions, discussed The Innovator Platform which aims to foster innovation and encourage entrepreneurship.
SME capacity building in ASEAN Member States (AMS) has been a key pillar of the Council for one decade now. In 2011, the Council established a training program for ASEAN SMEs in response to a request by ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) to support ASEAN SMEs in leveraging technology and the intra-global consumer and supply base. Currently, nearly 10,000 SMEs have benefitted from Council’s SME programs in all ten AMS. This is the 8th SME capacity building activity that the Council has conducted for SMEs in Thailand.
In line with making material on the SME Academy more accessible to entrepreneurs, the Council launched the online ASEAN SME Academy in 2016. The Online Academy is a self-help and self-paced learning platform for SMEs that provides access to free courses and resources from the Council’s member companies. The Academy is co-administered with the Philippines Department Trade and Industry (DTI) and Philippine Trade Training Centre (PTTC) on behalf of the Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME). To read more about the academy or should you want to know more on how to develop your SME, please visit the link www.asean-sme-academy.org for more information.