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Disaster management officials from APEC member economies have voiced support for the introduction of financial incentives to encourage businesses in the Asia-Pacific region to develop business continuity plans.

An incentives-based approach was backed by officials over mandatory measures during a recent public-private sector meeting in Bangkok to promote business continuity planning. The focus will be on lifting the low adoption rate by small and medium enterprises which account for more than 97 percent of businesses, 60 percent of GDP and over half of employment in APEC economies, and are an emerging yet vulnerable driver of cross-border production and supply chains.

“Small businesses play a significant and growing role in the international production and trade of goods, particularly as suppliers of component parts and equipment for larger manufacturers, but their disaster risk exposure remains disproportionately high,” explained Dr Li Wei-sen, co-chair of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group, which oversees member cooperation on related issues.

“The knock-on effects of small business disruptions or shutdowns can be substantial given the increasingly globalized nature of production and trade, as earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific have shown,” he noted. “The adoption of business continuity plans by small and medium enterprises is critical to mitigating the disaster threat within the sector and to the global economy but their recognition of this need and action to address it is often lacking.”

APEC economies are hit by more 70 percent of the world’s natural disasters and suffered USD68 billion annually in related costs from 2003 to 2013. But just 13 percent of small and medium enterprises in the region have business continuity plans in place. This gap leaves the sector more susceptible to business disruptions, financial losses and bankruptcy.

“Possible financial incentives to encourage small and medium enterprises to adopt business continuity plans include tax cuts, reduced insurance costs and lower interest rates to help them overcome the initial investment of setting up their plans,” said Natori Kiyoshi, who is also co-chair of the APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach given variations in economic and financial conditions among the region’s economies.”

“Making business continuity planning use compulsory for small and medium enterprises would be counterproductive because many governments lack the resources to promote and enforce adoption,” he added. “Further down the road, governments could develop standards for business continuity plans and eventually regulations may be appropriate.”

The meeting preceded a two-day workshop to help officials understand the benefits of business continuity plans and improve the capacity of governments to promote them, one of a series initiated by Australia.

It builds on an ambitious multi-year business continuity planning training program for small and medium enterprises currently being implemented in APEC economies.

“Governments at all levels continue to face policy and technical obstacles when promoting greater use of business continuity plans by small and medium enterprises,” concluded Leslie Williams, director of reform, security and economic and technical cooperation, APEC Branch for Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “We are working to identify these barriers and equip officials with the necessary tools and strategies to overcome them.”

Senior Disaster Management Officials and Small and Medium Enterprise Ministers from APEC member economies will meet on 22nd, 23rd and 25th September in Iloilo, the Philippines, to gauge the progress of these measures and take further policy steps to strengthen disaster resilience within the sector.

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