APEC 21 – BEATING COVID ONE ZOOM AT A TIME

by | Nov 8, 2021 | Trade Working Blog | 0 comments

The ABAC NZ Team

The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) is preparing to discuss its Annual Report with APEC Economic Leaders.

Nothing like a pandemic to upset lives and livelihoods, and also disrupt this year’s hosting of APEC by New Zealand.  Gone is the “barbecue at our place” and instead the year has been one long Zoom. For the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) over 80 online meetings have replaced four three-day meetings normally held in far-flung locations around the Asia Pacific region.  

Disrupted year

The pandemic has also highlighted significant differences between the APEC membership.  How best can APEC respond to the health crisis for example, and how to move to safe and seamless border re-opening – that has been particularly challenging, given the varied stages of the outbreak and as vaccines are only now becoming more readily available across the region.  

Clearly not everyone is in the same boat when it comes to Covid, but surely, we are all on the same sea.  As ABAC’s 63 Members make clear in their annual Report to APEC Economic Leaders, the pandemic response needs to be global, and it needs to be co-ordinated.  Getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible is key to overcoming the health crisis, enabling borders to re-open when circumstances permit, and restarting the engines of growth.

Getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible is key to overcoming the health crisis, enabling borders to re-open when circumstances permit, and restarting the engines of growth.

ABAC’s theme for 2021 has been ‘People, Place and Prosperity’ or ‘Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura’.  Putting people (ngā tāngata) first is the top priority, but the challenges do not end there.  Moving forward in respect for the environment (te taiao) and advancing prosperity (te taurikua) in ways that are not just sustainable, but also inclusive were also top of mind.

ABAC’s final report contains 43 separate recommendations across the five pillars of ABAC’s work this year in the areas of Regional Economic Integration; Sustainability; Inclusion; Digital; and the Economy.

To foster the wellbeing of our people, ABAC has called for capacity-building and structural reform to empower smaller businesses, women and Indigenous communities. ABAC Chair Rachel Taulelei led an initiative this year to bring together 90 indigenous business leaders from eight APEC economies – their statement of priorities is included in ABAC’s Report to Leaders.  Achieving a digitally-enhanced, trade-friendly and sustainable APEC food system is also foundational for the health and welfare of the region’s people.  

To safeguard the place in which we live, ABAC believes a concern for sustainability must drive all of APEC’s activity.  A set of Climate Leadership Principles for Business was developed under the leadership of ABAC NZ Member Malcolm Johns, along with a companion framework for trade and investment in renewable energy. Both are means of galvanizing further climate ambition on the part of APEC economies, as COP26 gets underway.

To foster prosperity, APEC has an opportunity to show leadership by championing a credible and relevant World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the lead up to November’s WTO Ministerial Conference.  Building towards the eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) on the foundation of agreements like CPTPP and RCEP remains a key goal. 

There is likewise an urgent need to realise the potential of the digital economy, as work led by ABAC NZ’s Anna Curzon showed, through upgrading skills, investing in infrastructure and enabling more seamless, interoperable digital trade.  

On 12 November ABAC Members will sit down – virtually of course – with the APEC Leaders themselves to discuss the ideas contained in the report.   ABAC will emphasise that the world is more deeply interconnected than ever before and while the challenges we face are profound, they are also shared.  That idea of an APEC ‘community’ is fundamental to APEC’s Putrajaya Vision 2040 which was adopted last year. A Vision Implementation Plan is set to be adopted at this year’s Leaders’ meeting.  ABAC has repeated consistently that the region cannot wait twenty more years to achieve the Vision’s ambitious goals. The time for action is now.

Not all of ABAC’s recommendations are likely to please and not all will be accepted, even in in a pandemic year when leadership is needed most.  ABAC after all has been waiting since 2004 for FTAAP to be implemented!  Rachel Taulelei put it best when she compared the work of ABAC to “that great pounamu stone at Te Pāpā that is slowly worn down by people’s hands rubbing the surface, as ABAC’s words do across the agenda of APEC.  Eventually the beauty shows through”.  

This post was prepared by Stephen Jacobi, Executive Director of NZIBF and ABAC 2021.  NZIBF provides policy advice and executive support to the New Zealand members of ABAC.  This blog is an abridged version of an article which earlier appeared in the NZ Herald here (paywall).

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