The importance of hosting Apec
The Philippines will serve as chair and host of the Apec (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) Leaders Meeting this year. It will be the first time since 1996, under then President Fidel V. Ramos, that the country will host this important gathering. The timing can’t be better to showcase the Philippines’ economic progress.
Apec is composed of 21 member-economies: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, United States, and Vietnam. It was originally formed in 1989 and today now represents 40 percent of global population, over 40 percent of world trade, and over 50 percent of global GDP. It has been holding its annual Leaders Meeting since 1993, when it first convened the summit on Blake Island off Seattle in the United States.
While Apec is best remembered for its summit, now referred to as the Annual Economic Leaders Meeting, in reality the Apec calendar of events is year-round. It typically starts in December (our chairmanship and hosting year started on Dec. 8) with the so-called Informal Senior Officials Meeting. The rest of the year’s events and meetings include four more Senior Officials Meetings (SOM) with related committee and technical working group meetings, and at least nine ministerial meetings and high-level policy dialogues before culminating in the Leaders Meeting in November. It is literally a gathering of some 200 or so meetings involving thousands of delegates and participants.
Aside from the government meetings, there is also a large number of private-sector meetings running within or parallel with the government’s calendar of events. These range from relatively small groups such as the Automotive Dialogue, Chemicals Dialogue, Policy Partnership on Food Security, Life Sciences Innovation Forum, and others to larger groupings like the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) and the Apec CEO Summit.
The purpose of all these is to drive regional economic integration. Apec member-economies are not only each other’s largest trading and investment partners, the strength of Apec also collectively enables it to punch above its weight in the global economy. As home to some of the world’s largest or fastest-growing economies, Apec contributes to global growth and development. This is basically done through work carried out by committees and by individual member-economies across a wide range of economic sectors and activities that range from the highly-technical (think “Regulatory Harmonization”) to policy and paradigm (think “Free Trade Area of the Asia and Pacific”).
Hosting Apec will provide the Philippines some opportunities. First, it will allow us to align our policies to global practice and, at the same time, give us a chance to take a leadership position in introducing, advocating, or emphasizing new policy. In hosting Apec, an economy also takes a chairmanship position in the major meetings (SOM, Ministerials, and Leaders). As chair, the Philippines can introduce new topics of discussion and action or, at the very least, shift emphasis and focus on a topic. More on this later.
What may not be popularly known is the role that the private sector plays within the Apec structure. It has been a big role and one that is expanding. In 1996, when the Philippines last hosted Apec, we introduced some innovations in terms of private-sector interaction with government officials. The 1996 Apec CEO Summit (then called the Apec Business Forum) was the first to feature a large number of presidents as speakers. This was achieved by making sure that the Apec Business Forum coincided with the Leaders Summit; in prior years these were set one week apart, thus eliminating the opportunity for scheduling keynote addresses by leaders. That year also saw the first joint meeting among CEOs and trade and foreign ministers, as well as the first meeting of the Apec Business Advisory Council (though Abac was formally established the year before). Most of these practices have become regular fixtures of the Apec calendar since 1996. Over a dozen leaders now speak at the Apec CEO Summit. Abac now meets four times a year, and now also holds an annual Dialogue with Leaders at their annual meeting.
For Apec 2015—with the theme “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”—what can be expected? Research shows that while the global economy has grown over the years, so has inequality. The gap between haves and have-nots has grown. Expect discussion across most Apec economies to come to this theme when they discuss their deliverables. Whether one is talking about small and medium-scale enterprises, urbanization, services, food security, education and human capital development, or anything else in the broad agenda of Apec, expect discussion to circle back to this central theme of building inclusive growth.
Apec 2015 brings a different kind of opportunity to the Philippines. Wisely, the government has chosen to hold the meetings in various parts of the country. While logistically difficult, the plus is that it spreads out opportunities to other areas. Thus, aside from Manila, Apec meetings have been scheduled in Clark, Subic, Legazpi, Tagaytay, Bataan, Boracay, Iloilo, Bacolod and Cebu. Private businessmen and local governments will get the chance to showcase their communities and culture. Hopefully, this will provide a more wholistic view of the Philippines’ progress and potential.
Guillermo M. Luz ([email protected]) is private-sector cochair of the National Competitiveness Council and alternate member of Abac Philippines.
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