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Trade groups share insights, best practices to overcome COVID-19 impact

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BUSINESS community leaders have highlighted the operational challenges especially faced by micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and offer their recommendations, best practices and insights to survive the unprecedented devastation brought by the virus outbreak.

Trade representatives from the electronics, handicraft, furniture, and other industries told a recent online forum how MSMEs are encountering cancellation of orders and trade shows, worker mobility and material sourcing concerns, and higher cost of doing business due to supply chain issues, all as a result of the health crisis and the lockdowns imposed.

Ferdinand Ferrer, Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (PHILEXPORT) trustee for the electronics sector, shared during the online discussions how electronics orders are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 crisis and global lockdowns.

Mediatrix Villanueva, president of PHILEXPORT Region 5, also talked about how the cancellation of orders has badly hit the abaca industry in her region. She also noted that a pressing problem is that operations can’t continue because of material sourcing problems as raw materials from other provinces can’t come in due to border restrictions.

“The issue of mobility, of movement of goods and of people is vital to the cottage industry,” she said, adding that as long as the raw materials will be allowed to come in, workers will be able to continue to work and feed their families.

Salvio Valenzuela, executive director of the Chamber of Furniture Industries of the Philippines, reported how they had to cancel the annual Philippine International Furniture Show set for March and “we’ve forgone more than 10,000 buyers” as a result.

But he added that in response they have conducted their first virtual product showcase, where foreign buyers placed orders worth about US$1 million. Valenzuela said the online showcase worked because it targeted existing buyers who already knew the products and companies and just wanted to see new designs.

He also volunteered that they are currently assessing their industry’s strengths and weaknesses and the new opportunities to come up with a masterplan to “bounce back better and stronger.”

Valenzuela further advises, “This is the time for MSMEs to finally focus on innovation.” In the furniture industry, for instance, he foresees new opportunities, new products and new designs as an outcome of the coronavirus outbreak due to the trend for work-from-home arrangements and social distancing.

He also sees the need to address supply chain disruptions which have raised the cost of raw materials, suggesting to “empower the regions to produce the materials na puedeng i-match sa exporters.” He added that companies also have to prepare for a more technology-driven world.

Maria Teresa Alegrio, assistant vice president for Mindanao of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), called for investments or incentives for the establishment of manufacturing plants for alcohol in the region.

“Here in Mindanao we do not have a manufacturing plant for absolute alcohol when we have here the sugarcane, we have here the cassava, the molasses,” she said, adding that they would need technical assistance as well to be able to set this up.

Villanueva, meanwhile, appealed to the big companies to help MSMEs survive in these critical times because the small ones have been supporting them. “Enable us to learn how to partner with you because we are many and we have to be cared for” because “small as we are we know that we can help” the major players.

Ferrer for his part said the pandemic will bring about “a paradigm shift” on what people think and value. He said representations from the various sectors, industry associations, government, and the people “should have collaborative discussions” on going beyond the mindset of business as usual.

“We need to move forward to be better after this,” he said. The government may give us several aid packages, he said, “but it is up to us individual businesses to really transform our businesses looking forward” to remain competitive and relevant. 

The forum is the first in a series of e-discussions titled “#ResilienceandRecoveryPH: An eForum Series” put together in response to the call for bayanihan during this health crisis. The series is held every Wednesday, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., starting April 1. It is organized by PHILEXPORT, PCCI, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, and Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation.| – BNN / PhilExport News & Features

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