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Brussels, 31 May 2018 – SBS Small Business Standards (SBS) yesterday celebrated and debated the 25th anniversary of the European Single Market at its 2018 Annual Conference. Over 100 participants from the public and private sectors in Europe and beyond explored the tremendous benefits and opportunities – as well as some challenges – for SMEs afforded by the EU’s free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
Held in the prestigious Bozar/Centre for Fine Arts Brussels, and moderated by George Parker, Political Editor of the Financial Times, the SBS 2018 Annual Conference was entitled ‘Standards: A gateway for SMEs to the European Single Market and beyond?’. It was the latest in a series of SBS ‘SMEs and Standardisation’ events.
DG Trade Deputy Director General Helena König highlighted the crucial role played by some 600,000 European SMEs in driving the European economy: “We anchor our support to SMEs on European and worldwide standards, so we welcome all SBS’ work on standardisation and look forward to hearing today how we can further help SMEs in fields such as market access.”
Alan Wolff, Deputy Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), spoke about the challenges and opportunities for SMEs to access the global market. He noted that standards can be enablers, although an unfortunate combination of regulations and standards can also effectively close markets rather than facilitate access to them.
There were lively and informative debates about SMEs and standardisation throughout the afternoon, thanks to two panels of distinguished guests. Panel one, mainly comprised of representatives from standards institutes, discussed the value of SME-compatible standards and how these can boost or close off market access. It was concluded that SMEs do need to be better involved in setting standards, possibly with financial help and other support, and that trade associations are key enablers of this.
The second panel featured representatives from SMEs in Europe and worldwide. They shared first-hand views of their experience of standards and how these can benefit or hinder their companies – especially when selling into the European market. Conformity testing especially can be a costly challenge for SMEs outside the EU, as the bloc produces some 2,000 new standards every year. It was agreed that SMEs everywhere should definitely be more involved in standardisation, for instance through web-based tools to reduce the costs and time associated with this.
Wrapping up the SBS 2018 Annual Conference, Gunilla Almgren said: “It was great hearing from all our guests today, especially from a selection of SMEs from around the world, who told us how they are applying standards and why they choose to apply European standards. We enjoyed some great debates, with thought-provoking questions and answers that will surely contribute to the work of SBS and the European Commission going forward.”