Written by Mekong Institute  

The three-year project (2012-14) on “Capacity Development Program for Integrating CLMV Economies into AEC” sponsored under the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade Aid Programme (NZAP) is being implemented by the Mekong Institute, Thailand.

The project aims to prepare the Mekong countries namely the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) for the successful integration of their economic systems into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. Among five components of the project, the Trade and Investment Facilitation Department of MI is tasked with the implementation of two components namely: (i) integrating CLMV’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) into ASEAN and Global Value Chains and (ii) increasing capacity of public and private sectors’ organizations in trade policy development, Free Trade
Agreement (FTA) negotiation and implementation.   

In order to provide adequate information for the project inception report and resultsoriented M&E plan, a need assessment study was conducted in the CLMV countries. The aim was to identify the roles and responsibilities of the relevant stakeholders and assess their capacities and identify gaps to define capacity building needs for developing a capacity development plan and capacity building packages and strategies to respond to the needs within the framework of NZAP Project.

The assessment reveals that the prospect for consortia and SME clusters formation in the CLMV countries is potentially high, especially for products in handicraft and agro-based sector. However, the promotion of these activities is relatively weak, specifically in Myanmar and Cambodia, due to lack of knowledge and support services.

The assessment study observed that in the CLMV countries, although FTAs and bilateral agreements, mostly through ASEAN, have been concluded, their advantages have not yet been fully realized by export-oriented SMEs. The awareness of FTAs and related policies both among governments and private sectors is relatively low. Very few trainings or workshops on these issues have been conducted or if any, the SMEs participation seems to be quite limited.

The functionaries of SME and trade promotion agencies both in the government and private sector attend a range of capacity building programmes. The top level management deals with policy level issues and attends regional and internal events such as forums, seminar and dialogues whereas the mid level functionaries attends specific training on skill improvement, awareness, subject specific topics and training of trainers both within and outside the country. The top management level of private sector body (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) is mostly engaged policy advocacy forums. For the mid level functionaries, the types of training range from WTO, trade negotiations, AEC integration, trade fair and participation in trade exhibitions. It is noticed that there has been no specific training on FTAs or any training directed towards utilization of FTAs by SMEs.

Though a range of trainings either on SME development or Trade development has been attended by the practitioners, it was reported that the scope for applying those skills has been significantly low. The trainings in most cases do not reflect the roles and responsibilities of the functionaries mostly in case of mid and junior level functionaries.

Another, hurdle in the acquisition of skill and knowledge in trainings outside the country is the skill level which is not at par with participants from other countries in addition to low English language capabilities mostly among the junior level functionaries. Further, it was observed that most of the trainings attended abroad are advanced in nature and are not in consistent with the requirements of day to day functions of the organizations.

However, the trainings provided within projects which are implemented by the organizations and funded by donors are relevant since these are built in programmes to enhance capabilities of the implementing agencies. The study also identifies key organizations as focal point in the project countries. The role of the key organizations would be to coordinate all activities specific to their organizational mandate, assist in target participant recruitment and follow up action plan implementation and other assigned roles.

The importance of SME development through cluster approach is gaining ground as noticed in case of Vietnam and Cambodia however the knowledge is still limited particularly among the mid level and lower functionaries in all the CLMV countries.

With regard to FTAs, the knowledge seems to be limited particularly its utilization by SMEs. There is no systematic approach or attempt made in any of these countries to enhance utilization of FTAs by the SMEs.

The study acknowledges the importance to build capacities of the functionaries for SME cluster development and on enhancing utilization of FTAs by the SMEs. Since the role and functions of levels of functionaries are different, the study suggested specific capacity development packages for different level of functionaries and devise strategies to implement the two components of the project for the remaining two years of the project phase.

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