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Friday, April 17, 2015

UPU News : Posts can help bridge e-commerce divide for SMEs

14.04.2015 - The UPU and Posts have an important role to play in helping facilitate trade so that small- and medium-sized companies can take part in the global economy, said speakers on Day 2 of the World Strategy Conference in Geneva.

(Photo: UPU/Pierre Albouy)

With their vast network of outlets – some 640,000 worldwide – and wide range of services, including digital, financial and logistics services, postal operators can help micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) become participants in the global e-commerce market.
To date, large, multinational organizations have benefitted the most from the explosive development of the e-commerce sector, according to Xiaozhun Yi, deputy director general, World Trade Organization. 
But Yi and other speakers agreed there is great potential to grow SMEs, which play a vital role in many economies around the world. E-commerce can open the door to new markets and business opportunities for SMEs, while reducing their transaction costs, increasing their overall competitiveness, Yi explained. 
However, the obstacles preventing SMEs from taking that step are numerous and vary from country to country. In developing countries, for example, infrastructure is often a challenge. Barriers include lack of Internet access. Lengthy customs procedures for exporting goods can also be daunting for SMEs, which cannot afford to pay a customs broker, as Sandra Davoren, Secretary General of the Caribbean Postal Union told delegates.
 Arancha Gonzalez, the International Trade Centre’s executive director, believes lower trading costs are “essential” for SMEs, and are a deciding factor in whether a small business stays in its domestic market or expands abroad. 
“Logistical efficiency and improvements in the facilitation of trade are essential ingredients for the competitiveness of SMEs, Gonzalez explained. “It’s very important that organizations like UPU take this and put this at the heart of the agenda.” 
Peru’s SERPOST revealed its efforts in this area. In 2007, Peru launched its participation in the programme designed specifically for SMEs called Exporta Facil. 
Originally a Brazilian concept, Exporta Facil enables SMEs to use online tools to cut red tape, such as electronic customs forms, through the Post. The postal operator automatically receives the information and can immediately process and dispatch the item abroad. 
The service is also accessible: SMEs can send items 365 days a year at outlets throughout the country. They also benefit from lower costs, according to Friberg Quispe Grajeda, director general of SERPOST. The postal operator is also reaping benefits, with more than 18 billion USD in exports sent via Exporta Facil to date. 
 “E-commerce is growing and our aim as a state is to develop an instrument that facilitates the delivery of parcels to other destinations,” Grajeda told the conference. 
 Of course, the IT revolution has also changed other areas of business for the post. Amid declining letter volumes and booming package delivery, posts, governments and regulators are taking a closer look at universal service obligations. Different approaches are emerging throughout the world. Canada, for example, is stopping door-to-door mail delivery in favour of community mailboxes.
In Europe, where Internet and mobile penetration is high and postal networks are firmly established throughout rural and urban regions, the future focus should be on creating a better and more secure network for parcels, according to Torstein Olsen, director general of Norwegian Post and the Telecommunications Authority. “A new definition of postal services may be required,” Olsen said.  
In Africa, in contrast, there is still much work to be done in terms of expanding the network of postal offices to rural areas so that all citizens have access to postal services. Ethiopia, for example, has embarked on a project in which it is transforming telecom centres in rural villages into centres that provide telecom, IT and postal services. 
The lack of addressing systems is a major issue for Africa as well, according to Younouss Djibrine, secretary general of the Pan African Postal Union (PAPU). Improving infrastructure is a key pillar in PAPU’s preparations for “tomorrow’s universal postal service”, along with the diversification of services and postal regulation.

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