“Although the MSME sector is innovative, risk-taking and flexible in nature, many MSMEs will be marred by time, resource and cash constraints in the post-COVID era. We, therefore, need to create a simple policy framework that can help these enterprises manoeuvre these uncertain times,” said Dr. Deborah Elms, Founder & Executive Director, Asian Trade Centre, Singapore at an international webinar on ‘Leveraging on MSME strength to become Global Manufacturing Hub: Re-Skilling and Policy Development for MSMEs’. This webinar was second in a three-part series of webinars organised by MVIRDC World Trade Center Mumbai and World Trade Center Binh Duong New City, Vietnam, in their endeavour to educate MSMEs, across countries, navigate not just the COVID-19 crisis, but also become sustainable businesses over the medium and longer term.

Highlighting the importance of MSMEs for Asian economies, Dr. Elms said MSMEs constitute over 90% of the businesses in India and Singapore, ranging from handicraft and cottage industries to retail and service sectors. We need to help these MSMEs flourish by not just giving cash, but increasing their access to finance. She further highlighted the need for adopting digital platforms and social media channels to reach out to the world market.

Dr. Gunner Kassberg, Small Enterprise Promotion & Training, Leipzig University, Germany informed that his University supports start-up firms and other enterprises in more than 22 countries to grow by providing training in management to adopt innovation and internationalisation. He said MSMEs face challenges in identifying customer needs, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, finding partners and building business networks abroad, and adapting products and services to cultural differences.

Dr. Kassberg highlighted the scope of tying up with MVIRDC World Trade Center Mumbai to impart training to MSMEs in integrating with global value chains.

Mr. T. S. Kathayat, President & Chief – Corporate Quality & Technical Services, Welspun Corp. Ltd, said that COVID-19 presents a good opportunity for India to become a global manufacturing hub. He, however, brought out the challenges of labour scarcity in India due to migratory labour workforce. He highlighted the need for creating a global mindset, adhering to international quality standards, improving ease of doing business, adopting a collaborative rather than competitive approach, enhancing the use of technology and imparting hard as well as soft skills for training MSMEs.

Mr. Kathayat further emphasized on the need for skilling lower-level employees and suggested the importance of effective management of digital, operational, people and process strategies, and bringing in customer-centricity. He opined that today, businesses should focus on sustainable growth, humanity and protection of environment.

Mr. Nguyen Xuan Son, Operations Manager, Manpower Group, Vietnam highlighted the importance of automation and artificial intelligence in manufacturing operations. He pointed to the competitiveness of Vietnam in terms of labour and tax policies, and an open trade regime. He added that there is high demand for skilled workers in Vietnam because of automation of manufacturing process and remarked that there will be great demand for skilled labour in automation and robotics.

Mr. Hariharan Kannan, Co-Founder and Chairman, CEO Vietnam Company and Chief Strategist - Avtar Career Creators moderated the Panel Discussion. He said the current crisis is characterised by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). We are facing multiple challenges on the financial, social and economic fronts. He opined that each country is navigating the same storm, but there is difference in the form of management. Stressing on the significant contribution of MSMEs to the economies of India and Vietnam, he said MSMEs need to leverage technology, be customer-focused and should improve their skills in the post-COVID era.

Earlier in his Welcome Address, Capt. Somesh Batra, Vice Chairman, MVIRDC World Trade Center Mumbai said, “Since the onset of COVID-19, our outlook towards conducting business has changed. We need to plan for the future with improved facilities, manpower and digitalisation.”

Taking pride in the completion of 50 years of the development of M. Visvesvaraya Industrial Research & Development Centre WTC Mumbai, Capt. Batra said the Centre has dedicated these 50 years towards continuous service for the promotion of India’s international trade by providing wide-ranging and innovative services to the trading community such as trade research, trade promotion, education and training, seminars and workshops, exhibitions and trade missions, besides offering a host of trade-oriented facilities.

Ms. Thu Do, World Trade Center Binh Duong New City proposed the Vote of Thanks.

The programme was attended by MSMEs from across the world. During the lockdown period, WTC Mumbai has organised over 15 virtual discussions with participation from over 1000 members of trade and industry from India and overseas.