Roundtable on Asian Regionalism: Responding to Climate Change and Natural Disaster

Singapore, 04 May 2010
  • Welcome Remarks by Mr Sim Cher Young, Chief Operating Officer, APEC Secretariat
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to Singapore and to this roundtable discussion on Asian Regionalism. APEC's Executive Director Ambassador Muhamad Noor is in Switzerland for the World Trade Organisation's Geneva Week and has asked me to convey his regrets that he is unable to join us today.
Speaking on his behalf, I would like to say a few words about APEC and the pivotal role it plays in promoting regionalism. I would also like to highlight how ongoing efforts to foster closer cooperation and integration within APEC have placed it in a good position to respond to climate change and natural disasters.
APEC Regionalism vs. Asian Regionalism

Regionalism is a dynamic, flexible and outward-looking process that is proving to be a positive force for individual economies, for the region, and for the world. It is both a reflection of globalisation and a driver of it.

APEC was established because the region's Leaders recognised that business realities and advances in information and communication technologies were breaking down commercial borders in the region; and that governments needed to respond to and assist that process.

Since 1989, APEC's mission has therefore been to liberalise and facilitate trade and investment, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the region's prosperity.

APEC comprises 21 diverse economies from the Asian, North American, Latin American and Antipodean continents. Together they account for 40 percent of the world's population, 43 percent of global trade, and 53 percent of world GDP.

So based just on scope and geography, regionalism in the APEC context is broader that 'Asian Regionalism' per se - it's transpacific. This again is a reflection of deeper underpinning realities, and of the importance of cross-Pacific economic and strategic relationships. Regionalism within APEC can therefore be seen to have an impact on a broader scale.

Based on empirical studies, APEC has done well in terms of wealth creation and in improving the overall quality of life for people living in the Asia-Pacific.

Since APEC's establishment, members' total trade has increased almost sixfold, from $3 trillion in 1989 to $17 trillion in 2008. In the same timeframe, GDP per capita in the region has almost tripled, whereas GDP per capita in the rest of the world has less than doubled.
APEC's work on Climate Change and Natural Disasters

APEC's regionalism mandate has of course focussed tightly on accelerating regional economic integration - or, in APEC lingo, REI. This has meant work streams focused on reducing barriers to trade and investment at-the-border, behind-the-border and across-the-border. In effect this means eliminating tariffs, and making it easier and cheaper to do business.

However, APEC has also had the foresight to incorporate areas in its agenda, which although not strictly economic, can and do have serious economic implications.
For this reason APEC is currently undertaking a number of innovative and important activities to protect the natural environment and to better prepare the region for emergency situations; and I would like to briefly share some of them with you.
The issue of energy, for example, is a natural area for APEC cooperation, given that the region accounts for 60 percent of world energy demand, and growing. APEC's Energy Working Group has therefore been undertaking work aimed at reducing energy intensity and mitigating the environmental effects of energy supply and use.
It is assisted by four Expert Groups - Clean Fossil Energy, Efficiency & Conservation, Energy Data & Analysis, New & Renewable Energy Technologies - and a Task Force on Biofuels.
Together these groups are working to share information and promote the adoption of more sustainable energy practices. One example of how this is feeding through to the economy level is APEC's Peer Review Mechanism on Energy Efficiency. Under this initiative members volunteer to have their economies audited by energy experts, and the results are openly discussed. Already New Zealand, Chile and Viet Nam have been reviewed and more are in the pipeline.
Indeed APEC's work on energy is going to increase in future. Just recently Japan contributed 1.3 million US Dollars to a Support Fund specifically created to promote energy efficiency activities throughout the APEC region.
Another area that APEC is focusing on is the Environmental Goods and Services (EGS) sector. This industry is devoted to solving, limiting and preventing environmental problems, and it currently accounts for two to three percent of GDP in developed economies. APEC is working to reduce barriers to investment and trade in this sector so that it can grow and thrive, and make a bigger contribution to the region going forward. A one-stop EGS website was recently launched to provide a platform for APEC members to share relevant information.
The advantages of cooperation in APEC are also being felt in the area of natural disaster preparedness. This is especially relevant to members as about 70 percent of natural disasters occur in the Asia-Pacific region.
As an immediate response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, APEC established the Task Force for Emergency Preparedness (TFEP). Since then, many workshops and studies have been conducted across the region to share experiences and best practices in coping with emergency situations.
Just this year, to reflect members' increased prioritisation of cooperation in the area, the Task Force was upgraded in status to a working group. This should see some great new work being undertaken.
Initiatives already slated for 2010 include a project to develop web-based hazard mapping technologies to better prepare the region for tropical storms, wildfires, tsunamis, and floods. And a second project is aiming to makes schools in the region more resilient to earthquakes. It will bring together earthquake experts and school safety professionals to develop and implement school earthquake safety programmes and help save young lives.

Unfortunately my allocated time today doesn't allow for a full description of everything APEC is doing to promote regional cooperation on Climate Change and Natural Disasters. My intent has therefore been to give you just a 'taster' of the practical work being done.

However, for the purposes of the discussion which will follow today, the key thing to keep in mind is that natural disasters and climate change don't confine themselves to sovereign borders. Ultimately therefore, cooperation within APEC and other regional fora, will be critical to our ability to plan for, and respond to, crises of this kind.
We therefore look forward to an increasing role for APEC, and to APEC making an even greater contribution to the lives of the people in the region in future.
Thank you.