CBI helps SMEs worldwide navigate new EU legislation

On 28 March 2024, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) hosted an online webinar on the upcoming EU legislation on sustainable business practices. Experts from around the world discussed its impact on small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. The webinar led to valuable insights and perspectives on how to support SMEs in navigating these changes.

Sonja Rijsbosch, strategic advisor at CBI, explained how the new EU rules will affect businesses and supply chains around the world. Particularly SMEs in developing countries. Koos Dijkstra from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed the importance of engagement, partnership and cooperation with producer countries. He also pointed out CBI's important role in promoting these collaborations. Together, Sonja and Koos emphasised the impact of the EU legislation. 

Why is the new EU legislation important?

Sonja explains, "The new EU legislation reflects a global trend towards responsible business behaviour. These laws are meant to make sure that companies consider issues like human rights, good working conditions, and the environment in their operations and supply chains. For example, the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) will become effective at the end of 2024. It will prevent products linked to deforestation from being brought into the EU market. Likewise, the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D) will require companies to perform due diligence on their operations and suppliers. So that they do not harm people and the planet. These laws will affect the way companies trade and do business. They require companies to be more open about and careful with sourcing products. These new rules will apply to companies operating in the EU market, but will also affect businesses large and small worldwide. For CBI and the SMEs we support, this means it is not enough to say that we are doing well; we have to prove it!".

What challenges and opportunities do the new rules bring? 

Sonja answers, "The new EU rules not only bring challenges but also opportunities for growth and new ways to be sustainable. For example, we see new services and apps to help companies be more sustainable. However, many companies are unaware of these laws or unsure how to comply with them. This particularly goes for companies in developing countries. CBI acknowledges this challenge and is already helping SMEs understand and deal with these changes."

Koos continues, "We need this new legislation to bring sustainability in value chains to the fore. We want this legislation to be inclusive, so we need to work with countries and businesses inside and outside Europe to help them understand and follow the new rules. It is important we listen to what is happening on the producing countries' grounds. We will use this information to support the implementation of the new legislation in the Netherlands and Europe. CBI, together with other development cooperation partners, is in a good position to assist in building this capacity. In doing so, CBI also keeps a close eye on the needs of SMEs in producing countries, making sure they get effective assistance and support."

CBI's response: empowering SMEs

Sonja answers, "During the webinar's breakout sessions, experts discussed the challenges and opportunities we mentioned earlier. There are still concerns that some producing countries may not yet be aware and ready enough. But we also noticed optimism about the benefits that working more sustainably can bring. The field is changing fast and CBI can help lead the way. We can achieve a lot by working together across countries, supply chains, and organisations."

She continues, "CBI is dedicated to supporting SMEs through these transitions. Through our Market Intelligence platform, we give information and advice about the new EU obligations for different sectors. Also, we have started projects to directly help businesses and sectors. In Uganda, for example, CBI is helping the coffee industry to comply with the new EUDR rules. By creating  partnerships and sharing what we know, we are making sure SMEs are ready to do well in a changing business environment."

Looking ahead: CBI's commitment

"Looking ahead, CBI stays committed to helping SMEs adjust to the new rules. Also, we want to make sure everyone knows what is going on with new initiatives on the way. That is why we invite stakeholders to work together and share knowledge. Together, we can better understand and follow the complex EU laws. And contribute to a more sustainable future for businesses worldwide", Sonja concludes.

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