Whenever we have conversations around exporting, many of our minds would go straight to the titans of industry, and the sectors they represent. In the Eastern Cape, this would likely be automotive or agricultural in nature.

While the contribution of these industries is indisputably critical to export in the region, we must not fall into the trap of underestimating the role that small businesses have to play in the same space.

At our recent Exporter of the Year awards, we again made sure to honour this important role by awarding accolades to two small businesses: Marina Sea Salt won the title of Best Exporter in the Small Business category, while Microcare Solar received a Merit Award for Innovation in the same category.

Though Marina Sea Salt is a proudly local venture, about 20% of their business relies on exports of salt products to countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. On the other hand, Microcare Solar has exported between R4-million and R6-million worth of locally manufactured renewable energy products in the past two years, to countries in the SADC region as well as Australia, the Philippines, Mauritius and Portugal.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that between 25% and 35% of the world’s manufactured direct exports originate from SMEs. SMEs also contribute to job creation and are often able to innovate – perhaps without the internal constraints that their multinational counterparts face.

When you consider that at least a quarter of exports may come from the Davids rather than the Goliaths, it reinforces the importance of supporting such businesses in their quest to branch out to other markets.

Unfortunately, though opportunities are plenty for small businesses, so are challenges when it comes to entering the export space. This is why Exporters Eastern Cape continues to make it a priority to support all businesses interested in exporting, through the Exporter Development Programme, in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, and the Emerging Exporter Forum.

My challenge is to all exporting businesses, large and small: wherever you operate, actively look for opportunities to enable small businesses to grow their markets. When it comes to helping small businesses export their goods and services, there are only win-win scenarios for our industries and economy.

Quintin Levey, Exporters Eastern Cape Chairman

The Herald – Let’s Talk Exports – Published November 2023