Speech by Ambassador Colin Heseltine, Deputy Executive Director, APEC Secretariat
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all participating APEC Member Economies, the APEC Task Force for Emergency Preparedness and the APEC Health Task Force for the successful conclusion of the first APEC Desk-top Pandemic Response Simulation Exercise.
This is the first time that APEC has conducted an exercise of this nature. Over the 26 hours of the simulation exercise, the cohesion and coordination that was so clearly demonstrated, highlighted the ever-increasing practical and concrete ties and connections among our Member Economies.
I congratulate Australia for its lead role in this exercise and its ongoing commitment of resources to combat the threat of pandemics and other emerging infectious diseases within the region. This includes Au$10 million for specific APEC activities relating to preparations to deal with an avian influenza pandemic.
APEC is first and foremost a forum for promoting economic growth and prosperity, as well as cooperation and economic integration among its members. APEC is tasked by Leaders and Ministers to open up domestic markets for foreign goods and services, and to bring about benefits to our people by promoting open and free trade and investment.
Among multilateral and regional fora, APEC is a pioneer in the area of trade and investment facilitation. Our business community tells us time and time again that this is the area of APEC activity of most immediate relevance to them. Lowering costs, eliminating red-tape and delays, promoting regulatory reform, developing mutual recognition arrangements on standards and conformance, and increasing predictability in business operations are clear benefits, especially to operators of small and medium-sized enterprises.
So, why, people might ask, - given its economic and business-focused mandate - is APEC involved in preparing for pandemics, especially when there are already many organizations in the world, including a number of United Nations agencies, whose major role is attending to emergency and pandemic issues.
Put simply, APEC is involved in dealing with the potential of an avian influenza pandemic because it poses a threat to the very goals and objectives that APEC strives to attain. As was demonstrated during the SARS epidemic in 2003, the cross-border outbreak of a lethal virus brings with it not only devastating social and humanitarian implications, but can cause wide-spread economic damage. And there is no question that within APEC Economies, business wants APEC to be involved.
To date 80% of all reported deaths relating to the H5N1 avian influenza virus have occurred in APEC Member Economies. Nine APEC Member Economies have already experienced outbreaks of the N5H1 virus in birds and four economies have reported human cases that have resulted in 111 deaths. Avian Influenza has already damaged South-East Asia's poultry industry and strained economic and veterinary resources. APEC recognizes this threat and is ready to strengthen efforts to prepare for and mitigate avian and pandemic influenza.
The parallels between the potential of an Avian Influenza pandemic and the SARS epidemic of just a few years ago are very strong as are the parallels between APEC's response in 2003 and what we are doing now.
The height of the SARS epidemic in 2003 saw an immediate downturn in obvious economic sectors such as tourism and aviation and this had an immediate flow-on effect to other businesses. Restaurant owners and staff, taxi drivers, retail outlets and other, often small businesses, lost considerable income. Providers to these businesses then suffered as orders for their products dried up, and so the cycle continued. Importantly, this economic loss was not restricted to the travel sector, but in places that had reported SARS cases such as Singapore and Toronto, people increasingly chose to stay home instead of going to shopping malls or even to their own places of employment.
The experience of SARS demonstrates the relevance of APEC's interest in confronting the threat of Avian Influenza. Ultimately, APEC is a forum for promoting economic growth and prosperity among our members, and the threat posed by an Avian Influenza pandemic has the potential to be many times more damaging to the economic and social health of the Asia-Pacific than was the SARS epidemic.
In the two APEC ministerial level meetings that have been held in recent years to deal with cross-border viruses the 2003 Health Ministers meeting in Thailand and the Ministerial Meeting on Avian and Influenza Pandemic in Viet Nam this year, APEC has provided great support in practical terms to deal with these threats.
APEC is working with international agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Organization for Animal Health. All have great experience in dealing with the medical and scientific dimensions of such health-related crises.
In working with these organizations, APEC brings to the table our broad international reach across numerous industrial and business sectors and the direct political endorsement that is provided by our Leaders and Ministers. Through the hundreds of working group and fora level meetings, workshops and symposiums that take place under the APEC umbrella, APEC has significant reach through government departments and the private sector to impart information, skills and knowledge. To ensure that these efforts achieve full potential, all of our work is initiated or endorsed at a political level through the range of sectoral ministerial meetings that take place throughout the year, and ultimately the APEC Leaders' Meeting.
Helping Member Economies in times of natural disasters and pandemic outbreaks has been mandated by APEC Leaders over the past decade. APEC Leaders first highlighted the value of sharing experience and collaborating on emergency preparedness at their meeting in Vancouver in 1997.
Now as the region faces a potentially devastating health disaster, APEC Leaders at their most recent meeting in Busan last year, agreed on collective, practical measures to further strengthen regional preparedness for pandemics. Leaders called for greater technical assistance to help developing economies reinforce their defences against pandemic disease. Leaders also requested that a list of available experts and regional capabilities for responding rapidly to pandemic influenza be established, and that avenues be created for exchanging information on border screening procedures.
Leaders also called on Member Economies to test the preparedness of regional responses and communication networks. This included the desk-top simulation exercise that we are discussing today.
Importantly, for future co-operation and community building among APEC Economies, this pandemic response exercise clearly has greater implications than the initial task at hand to prepare APEC Member Economies for an avian influenza pandemic. This exercise has demonstrated APEC capacities to deal with a range of disasters, natural or man-made, and other emergency situations that could potentially occur over the coming years.
The feedback we've received through internal accounts and from reports in the regional news media has been very positive. The whole project was well-designed with the technical details clearly identified in the Exercise Plan and other related documents. From the outset, the aim of the exercise, who would be involved, how the exercise would be coordinated, what would be expected from participating APEC economies and what would happen when the exercise finished was apparent to all participants and observers.
After this lessons-learnt workshop in Singapore yesterday and today, Australia will draft a report on the exercise that will be submitted to APEC Senior officials at SOM III in Da Nang in September. The finalized report will then be presented for consideration at the APEC Ministerial Meeting in November 2006 at which time it will be released.
As we are now only months away from the climax of this APEC year, when Ministers and Leaders meet in Ha Noi in November, the APEC Task Force for Emergency Preparedness must be congratulated; your efforts over the passed months have already produced significant outcomes and you have carried out the commitments made by our Leaders last year. You should therefore be pleased of the outcomes of the pandemic exercise and the completion of the APEC Register of Disaster and Pandemic Management Coordinators.
Finally, I would like to thank the Singapore and Australian Governments for "co-hosting" this "debrief" workshop to share lessons learnt from the exercise.
There are no short-cuts or miracles that we can call on to strengthen the region's preparedness for disasters but APEC's ongoing efforts are proving instrumental in ensuring the safety of people, property and economic infrastructure in our region. The better we prepare for natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, SARS and avian influenza outbreaks, the less we will suffer from them, and the more APEC Economies will be able to continue on their path of economic growth and prosperity, the achievement of which - when it is all said and done - is what APEC is about.