Apec in a post-pandemic world
Apec business agenda has expanded in a post-pandemic world. Discussions started well before COVID-19 hit, but these new issues are rising fast in the order of priority. But what is Apec, and how does it work?
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation or Apec is a grouping of 21 economies whose common feature is that they all share a coastline along the Pacific Ocean. They include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam. The region is home to 2.9 billion people and accounts for over 60 percent of global gross domestic product.
The group’s representatives from senior officials to ministers and leaders (e.g., presidents, prime ministers, and chief executives) meet every year to discuss issues primarily around trade, regional economic integration, sustainable development, and support for micro, small, and medium-scale enterprise, among others.
Aside from government officials, the Apec leaders also appoint three private sector representatives per economy to the Apec Business Advisory Council or Abac. Its basic job is to provide recommendations to the leaders, as well as to ministers of finance, trade, and others. This group meets quarterly and ends its year with its annual Abac Report to leaders and the Dialogue with Leaders.
The annual Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting will be held in Bangkok next week, as Thailand is this year’s chair for Apec. This will be the first time in the last four years that this meeting will take place face-to-face, after postponement in Chile in 2019 and COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. Over this period, Abac has met virtually through most of 2020 and 2021, and began hybrid meetings in 2022. It will also meet next week in Bangkok to formally present its report to leaders, and to begin its work on the 2023 agenda.
Much of the world has changed in the last few years, especially the last two years. Accordingly, the nature of the recommendations from the private sector has also shifted and expanded beyond the usual trade-related topics. Abac still advocates accelerated regional economic integration, the reinvigoration of the multilateral trading system, and support for micro, small, and medium-scale industries. But in this time of great disruption, Abac has also called for more Apec-wide collaboration across several fronts to “achieve speedy and sustained recovery.” Among this year’s recommendations to leaders, they include implementing monetary policy to control inflation and fiscal policy, such as targeted support and cash transfers, to the most vulnerable.
Abac has also advocated confronting the food security crisis. This includes facilitating trade and refraining from export prohibitions and restrictions. It has also called for the urgent implementation of the new Apec Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030, which now includes the Food Security Digital Plan to support of new technologies for production, distribution, and trade and the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices for sustainability.
On the health front, Abac has called for the elimination of restrictions to the movement of essential goods and services critical for fighting the pandemic. It also calls for vaccines to be made more accessible and affordable, especially for developing countries. It must be noted that while the demand for vaccines appears to be plateauing, we cannot discount the need for new vaccines as variants continue to enter populations.
The economic lockdowns of the last two years have also resulted in travel restrictions. Abac has long advocated that borders be safely reopened to restore economic activity. This includes a regional approach to safe and seamless travel by streamlining travel standards and practices and leveraging digital collaboration to ensure interoperability across different systems and economies. Thankfully, travel restrictions have eased somewhat in many economies this year as the pandemic shifts to a state of endemicity.
In recent years, Abac has begun to focus on climate change and called for a collective response to this crisis. This includes an effective transition to a low-carbon economy by providing incentivization to move toward more sustainable energy and renewable energy. Abac has recommended that economies prioritize a realistic energy transition, supported by expanded financial support to facilitate the transition.
These issues present complex challenges for each Apec economy and are likely to remain high on the business agenda for a long time. But solutions will only be found if true public-private collaboration takes place.
Guillermo M. Luz is an alternate member of Abac Philippines.
Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).
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