The Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) remains the preeminent economic priority for the Asia-Pacific business community.
Remarks by ABAC Executive Director Stephen Jacobi to Pacific Basin Economic Council, 22 November 2021
APEC BUSINESS ADVISORY COUNCIL
REMARKS TO PBEC CONFERENCE
22 NOVEMBER 2021
KEY TAKE AWAYS FOR ASIAN BUSINESS FROM APEC NZ 2021
Thanks very much for the opportunity to be with you today and in such distinguished company.
It’s a pleasure to talk to you from the perspective of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) to offer a view on APEC this year.
There’s no escaping that the global pandemic has disrupted lives and livelihoods and it certainly disrupted APEC – the New Zealand Government decided early on that the whole year would be delivered virtually.
While that meant the cancellation of the annual “barbecue at our place”, it did not prove a barrier to active and meaningful engagement amongst APEC Leaders, Ministers, senior officials and business leaders.
The APEC Leaders’ Declaration which was issued early in the morning on 13 November speaks directly to the challenges so evident in the region today, as did the ABAC report which was discussed directly with Leaders the day before.
I draw your attention in particular to the Aotearoa Plan of Action, by which APEC will implement the Putrajaya Vision, agreed last year, and which contains a set of concrete and verifiable actions to measure APEC’s progress towards the establishment of an “open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040”.
This implementation plan was the signature achievement of New Zealand’s chairing this year and I acknowledge the work of Ministers and senior officials in bringing this into being.
Time allows me only to focus on some of the other headline deliverables this year in the areas of pandemic recovery, support for trade, sustainability and inclusion.
APEC Leaders had already met informally in July and given directions to Ministers and officials to ensure that lack of access to vaccines and other health supplies were not a barrier to overcoming the pandemic.
Pleasingly, since that meeting, no APEC member has imposed an export ban on vaccines.
In November Leaders went a step further by agreeing to enhanced trade facilitation for these products and committing to co-operate at the WTO Ministerial Conference to achieve a pragmatic and effective multilateral response.
ABAC applauds these efforts given the critical role of vaccination in the health response but would have liked to see APEC go even further to committing to tariff elimination for vaccines and essential medical supplies and to agreeing to champion a sectoral initiative at the WTO.
ABAC has also spent a lot of time this year discussing the criteria and processes for safe and seamless border re-opening and had proposed the establishment of a Task Force of APEC officials to co-ordinate this effort across APEC with the aim of avoiding yet another “noodle bowl” of conflicting unilateral responses.
While APEC Leaders didn’t quite get there, we were pleased to see them committing to play a greater role in sharing information and co-ordination for cross border people movements and we hope under the Thai Chair in 2022 this role can be further extended.
ABAC certainly agrees with APEC that people need to be put first, at the centre of the pandemic response and indeed other policies : this reflects very much ABAC’s theme for this year which has been “People, Place and Prosperity – Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura”.
Support for trade
Earlier this year, prior to the annual meeting of APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade, ABAC had issued a strong and detailed statement of business support for the WTO as the critical underpinning of the multilateral trading system.
We therefore welcome APEC Leaders’ re-expression of long-standing support for the WTO and undertaking to work together to reform and shape a responsive, relevant and revitalised organisation.
We were also pleased to see, in these complex geo-political times, that APEC Leaders have not overlooked the continuing relevance of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), a concept first advanced by ABAC in 2004 and given new currency recently by the accession process underway with the UK and applications from China and Chinese Taipei.
APEC Leaders affirmed the importance of resilient supply chains and endorsed Ministers’ adoption of Guidelines for Paperless Trade which will further serve to digitalise border processes and increase the uptake of paperless trading – these are practical measures that will assist business when digital capability is becoming ever more critical to business success.
Trade and sustainability need to go hand in hand and for the first time ever, APEC Leaders have formally endorsed references to the need to address climate change.
ABAC had this year adopted its own Principles for Climate Leadership for Business and proposed a Framework for Trade and Investment in Renewable Energy.
For their part Leaders acknowledged the need for “urgent and concrete action to transition to a climate-resilient future global economy” and (appreciated) net zero or carbon neutrality commitments (in that) regard”.
They committed to working together to ensure that economic and environmental policies are mutually supportive and to support energy resilience, access and security.
While ABAC has previously called for the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, Leaders were silent on this issue while Ministers hinted earlier at the possible implementation of a voluntary commitment.
This issue will also be taken forward at MC12.
As I noted earlier, ABAC took a strong “people first” approach to its work this year and for the first time addressed the situation of Indigenous people alongside traditional support for women and small business.
In July ABAC hosted the first ever ABAC Indigenous Business Leaders’ Dialogue, bringing together over 90 Indigenous business leaders from eight economies.
Similar initiatives were undertaken at the official level and the Leaders’ Statement undertakes to develop this co-operation to ensure access to economic opportunities in global markets.
Inclusion is not a new topic in APEC, but the sense this year is that efforts to ensure that the benefits of trade and globalisation are available to all people is stepping up a notch, mindful that women, Indigenous and other disadvantaged groups have already suffered more from the fall out of the pandemic than others.
I mentioned at the outset the adoption of the Aotearoa Plan of Action, which Leaders intend to be a living document, reviewed and updated every five years.
ABAC has been consistent in its messaging all year that the region cannot wait twenty years for results from the implementation of the vision.
Some here will know that APEC is often referred to, somewhat dismissively, as, “A Perfect Excuse for a Conversation”.
But the work done this year suggests that this could be recast, in the spirit of the Putrajaya Vision, as “A Powerful Example of Community”.
As has been clear from what I have said today, business always wants these governmental processes to move faster and this year has been no exception.
It is that spirit of APEC community, of shared challenge and shared endeavour, of dialogue and co-operation, that will, with some constant business pressure applied, help get us through these challenging times.
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