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LAHORE: Despite the significant importance, over 5 million SMEs has been facing a huge credit gap, receiving only 7% of private sector credit, far below neighboring countries like Bangladesh (25%) and India (18%), with the State Bank committing to increase SME credit share to 17% by 2023.

To achieve this, we must advocate for targeted and fixed SME allocations in concessional financing schemes, particularly those aimed at the export-oriented sector.

These views were expressed by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industries’ Businessmen Panel (BMP) Chairman Mian Anjum Nisar. He proposed the SBP to allocate at least 25 percent of concessional financing, including the Export Finance Scheme, exclusively to SMEs in the export sector. This strategic allocation will not only boost SME sector’s growth but also promote a more inclusive and resilient economy.

Mian Anjum Nisar, who is also SAARC Chamber vice president and the FPCCI former president, suggested the central bank to review its credit policies by fixing a special quota to finance the small and medium enterprises, as only the large industries have been availing government’s all major concessional export loaning facilities, with very limited financing is left for the SMEs which are the backbone of the economy, contributing around 40 percent to the national gross domestic product (GDP).

Mian Anjum Nisar said that the State Bank of Pakistan has launched various policies for the promotion of SME finance, but the required results were still awaited. It was unfortunate that banks were always reluctant to provide financing to SMEs as their financing continued to show negative growth.

The FPCCI’s Businessmen Panel chairman said that the government with a view to help grow the businesses will have to take solid measures to strengthen the industry, especially the SMEs, saving the livelihood of millions of workers associated with the small industries. The government will have to make a visible reduction in markup rate to help grow the businesses, particularly the SME sector, as Pakistan needs millions of jobs annually.

We need to highlight the critical role of Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in driving sustainable economic development in Pakistan. With an estimated 5.2 million businesses, the SME sector is a cornerstone of our economy, fostering employment, growth, and export diversification.

In its endeavor to provide concessional financing to the export-oriented sector, the SBP has introduced the Export Finance Scheme, offering financing as low as3%, in stark contrast to the earlier Export Refinance Schemes’ (ERF) markup rates that reached 21%.

However, it is a matter of great concern that a substantial portion of this financing has been availed by large corporate industries, leaving no room for SMEs. The current economic challenges demand a targeted approach to support the SMEs, as they are among the hardest-hit and in desperate need of assistance.

The FPCCI former president said that a small section of public sector and Islamic banks and few DFIs were active in financing SMEs sector. Despite significantly contributing to the GDP, exports and employment generation, the financing percentage of SMEs remained pathetic in general.

He urged the government that SME policy should focus on addressing specific issues faced by the SME sector and help check reluctance of financial institutions to provide financing to SMEs.

He said that the FPCCI and the BMP fully supported the proposed measures for promotion of SME finance including the establishment of credit guarantee company for offering risk sharing facility for SMEs. He urged all the stakeholders to collaborate to meet the objectives of the SME policy and support the priority sectors.

Mian Anjum Nisar emphasized the importance of SMEs for the growth and development of the economy.

He called for early and speedy access to finance for SMEs, including creation of enabling regulatory framework, market development, awareness creation and capacity building programs for banks and SMEs and introduction of SME financing targets for banks and DFIs.

He stressed that a separate and comprehensive policy for the SME sector was the need of the day to promote contribution of SME sector for inclusive growth.

There are over five million SMEs across the country. These represent about 90 percent of Pakistan’s businesses, and contribute 35 percent to GDP with over 30 percent to export earnings. In fact, it is a key pillar of national economy, employing about 40 percent of the workforce for different abilities—-skilled, semiskilled and unskilled.

These diversified enterprises are engaged in a variety of industrial, commercial and services activities. The long list of businesses include textiles, leather, plastic, sports goods, handicraft, IT, construction, materials, consumer goods, horticulture, fisheries, gems, healthcare, agricultural produce, and energy.

The SMEs are vulnerable to financial strains, increased cost of production, supply chain disruption, and drastic decrease in demand, due to limited financial resources and weaker access to financing and management.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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