On 23 January, the Committee of Industry and Trade of the Swedish Parliament held a hearing on the “Internal Market of the Future”. Invited corporate speakers were IKEA and eBay. Hanne Melin of eBay’s Government Relations team spoke about the new commerce where web-enabled firms, in particular SMEs, are now able to grow cross-border businesses: the emerging micro multinational.
The hearing proved an excellent forum for gathering a wide variety of stakeholders around the importance of reigniting the debate on and efforts to unlock the opportunities for Swedish companies and consumers to access the internal and foreign markets.
The fundamental importance of openness and free trade went unchallenged among all the participants and attending Members of Parliament. There was also agreement on the need to ensure that the EU internal market adapts to changes in society and technology. Moreover, all speakers emphasized that efforts to facilitate for Swedish companies and consumers to make use of the internal market must go hand in hand with policy work focusing on extra-EU trade.
For eBay, the hearing was a welcomed occasion to shine a light on how technology and the Internet transform commerce and create unparalleled opportunities for small businesses. Economic research we have commissioned shows that eBay’s online platform and its technology solutions make it four times cheaper for merchants to expand internationally. That is a valuable finding with policy implications as it tells us that technology and data make powerful tools for reducing trade information friction. What is more, our research shows that small and large firms are almost equally likely to seize this opportunity to more efficiently and easily grow international operations.
We are indeed seeing the emergence of the micro multinational. And this is happening despite the fact that these companies run into significant hurdles when exporting products within the EU as well as to outside the EU. How would the world look if we successfully addressed complex VAT and customs procedures, differing consumer rights, and unsatisfactory shipping solutions? Here are three ideas:
- Legal frameworks, e.g. in the area of consumer rights, should be complemented by solutions and services that turn rights and obligations into something practical for consumers and merchants in the market
- Administrative complexities in customs need digital solutions that facilitate identification and categorization of trusted traders, the flow and exchange of customs information, etc.
- It should be a reflex throughout the policymaking process: Is this stimulating web-enabled small businesses to trade cross-border?