Small exporters left behind due to ‘digital divide’

Small exporters left behind due to ‘digital divide’

LIMITED ACCESS to digital resources disadvantaged smaller exporters despite government policies that allowed the sector to continue operating throughout the pandemic, a Philexport official said.

Smaller businesses accounting for the bulk of the industry have fewer resources to help on-site employees, Philexport Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer Senen M. Perlada said at the BusinessWorld Insights virtual event Wednesday.

Exporters were allowed to run some on-site operations even during the strictest phase of the lockdown last year.

“Exporters were lucky in the sense that the sector was considered essential, but there is a digital divide and there is a big gap because the major, big exporters in the export processing zones — they have resources to help on-site employees so they can really continue to operate,” Mr. Perlada said.

This was not possible for smaller exporters, he added. Micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) represent 95% of Philexport membership.

“So even if… I’d call it now maybe even lip service that exporters are there and they’re able to operate, that is not actually the reality on the ground.”

Exporters are now facing logistics delays. Vessel space and container shortages and an ensuing surge in freight rates are causing shipment delays and losses for companies, Philexport said in May. Shipment waiting times continue to be long even as market demand recovers.

Small businesses were also hit hard by the lack of financing and a demand slump while most of the population is not yet vaccinated, Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation President Rene S. Meily said at the same event.

“MSMEs are not that familiar with the digital world that we’re seeing taking place all around us. COVID accelerated the digital shift by at least 10 years, and we’ve all had to catch up.”

Diana Crizel Montes, Eastern Communications Strategic Segment marketing manager, added that MSMEs face connectivity limitations and remote employee management issues.

“The bricks-and-mortar business set up has been a reliable model for most MSMEs ever since, but I think they can break from these limitations by exploring readily-available social media platforms to reach their audience,” she said.

To help small businesses recover, Mr. Meily said that the companies must prepare emergency cash reserves, business continuity plans, and digital strategies. — Jenina P. Ibañez

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