Business Matters

Growth and resilience in Asia Pacific

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Our column last Jan. 19 welcomed the members, staffers and guests of the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) Meeting that was held on Jan. 20 to 23 here in Manila. Abac brings together business leaders from each of the Apec’s 21 economies to identify policy priorities and key concerns of the business sector.

The conference and the Apec SME Summit, organized on the sidelines of the Abac meeting, were a resounding success. Abac Philippines, represented by Doris Magsaysay Ho, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Tony Tan Caktiong and the Makati Business Club under the chairmanship of Ramon del Rosario Jr., was highly praised by conference participants and guests for the efficient organization of the conference, a truly informative and fun spouses program, and amazing social events.

This first meeting of Abac for 2013 included a lunch with the local business community. Its theme: “Open Markets and Free Trade: Roads to Prosperity.” Three business leaders from the Asia Pacific—Anthony Nightingale of Abac Hong Kong (director, Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited), Juan Raffo of Abac Peru (honorary chair, Raffo Group), and Matthew Miau of Abac Chinese Taipei (chair, MiTAC-Synnex Group)—shared their country’s economic liberalization success stories.

At the end of the meeting, Abac released the following press statement on the outcome of the 3-day gathering:

Asia-Pacific business leaders who comprise the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) gathered in Manila for the first of their four meetings in 2013 to flesh out their work agenda for the year. They agreed to pursue an agenda aimed at strengthening the underpinnings of the region’s economic growth and resilience at a time when the global economy is facing many short- and long-term challenges. Under the theme of “Partnership, Resilience and Bridges to Growth,” Abac will develop recommendations on how Apec economies can deepen regional economic integration, promote infrastructure and sustainable development, foster small and micro enterprise development and entrepreneurship, and promote the development and integration of financial markets. Abac engaged Apec senior officials from 17 Apec economies in a dialogue to present their agenda and to identify areas for collaboration through the year.

Abac noted the progress achieved by Apec in dismantling barriers at the border. Much work, however, remains in addressing beyond border barriers. “We need to take a bold and focused approach to doing things as the Apec agenda turns more and more from dismantling border barriers to the complexity of building institutions, the soft and hard infrastructure and the dynamics of integration. In the end our Leaders are interested in the dividends of the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment which are generated by business and people,” said Wishnu Wardhana of Indonesia, Abac chair for 2013.

To this end, Abac will place a stronger focus on investments, services trade and infrastructure development, areas that Apec has not given as much attention in the past as it has with its trade liberalization and facilitation agenda where it has already achieved notable success.

Abac had proposed recommendations to strengthen FDI flows in 2011 and 2012, and for 2013 it has developed a work program to seek a solution from the broader perspective of a comprehensive improvement of the investment environment by sharing best practices.

Services contribute at least 50 percent of GDP in all Apec economies, and in some of the developed economies it is more than 90 percent. Services trade and investment liberalization have therefore been a high priority of Abac. It will continue to press for a new Apec initiative on services, including the development of new approaches and collaboration with others to advocate these new initiatives.

Meeting the region’s enormous infrastructure requirement is a challenge that Abac is giving significant attention to because of its impact on investments, job generation and supply chain connectivity. Abac wants Apec to move beyond framework and best practices towards implementation.

Achieving the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) remains the end goal for Apec because it remains the most viable mechanism for achieving the Bogor Goal of free and open trade and investments. Abac has noted the progress made on the various pathways to FTAAP—including Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)—and has proposed that action be taken to ensure that these pathways eventually converge into the FTAAP. Abac was pleased to hear that the Philippines is engaged in the RCEP process but is working towards being able to participate in the TPP process as well.

Abac will work also in further developing an Apec food security system through the Public Partnership for Food Security (PPFS). SMME (small, medium and micro enterprises) development remains high in Abac’s priorities in recognition of the fact that it is the backbone of economic growth in most Apec economies. This year, Abac will focus on solutions for SMMEs to overcome information, logistics and financial barriers. Increasing the participation of women in business, with focus on promoting entrepreneurship and easing access to finance, will also be given priority.

The business leaders met with President Aquino in Malacañang during which they had a “fireside chat” where there was a lively discussion on regional economic issues, including on services, SMMEs and innovation. The President expressed his appreciation of Abac’s work and looked forward to meeting them in November.

Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is executive director of the Makati Business Club.

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