During the 2020 APEC CEO Dialogues Malaysia 2020, which were streamed live on 19-20 November, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of Canada had a conversation with Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft on “APEC Re-imagined.”

Below are 21 excerpts from this remarkable conversation wherein Prime Minster Ardern—who will chair APEC in 2021—talks trade, climate change, inclusive digital transformation, and the New Zealand concept of manaakitanga, or hospitality.

On Trade

  1. “Trade has been the engine of growth and prosperity in our region since APEC was founded 30 years ago. As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism. APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing.”
  2. “We must continue to ensure a level playing field and predictable rules for all our exporters in the region and internationally.”
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    On APEC New Zealand 2021

  4. “New Zealand takes on the chair of APEC next year and we will be asking three things of APEC economies: to join together, to reignite growth and plan for a long-lasting economic recovery; to work together, to show leadership and innovation, to work for the collective good; to grow together, to foster prosperity and well-being that is sustainable, inclusive and digitally enabled.”
  5. “I'll be the first to admit that I think New Zealand and New Zealanders probably find the virtual nature of our engagements challenging, because a value that's really fundamental to who we are is the idea of manaakitanga, which is the concept of really playing hosts and welcoming people and showing that hospitality. And that's one of the things that we had been so looking forward to with APEC.”
  6. “However, one of our other values is that we are a very inclusive and egalitarianism society. So, one of the opportunities that moving diplomacy into these virtual environments brings is the ability to involve and engage wider participation in events and platforms. And so, we'll be really looking to build that inclusivity, to bring in wider groups to conversation, and to not lose the spirit or intent of that diplomacy just because we're in a virtual space. So, there will be a challenge for us, but it's one that we're up for.”

  7. On ensuring everyone has digital skills and access to technology

  8. “We are committed to making New Zealand a truly digital nation.”
  9. “All our economies need to make the right choices to ensure all our people can connect, that they have the right skills to succeed in the digital world, and that we have the right frameworks in place to support trade and competition.”
  10. “Some surveys and reports have estimated that within a period of lockdown that we had in New Zealand, which was several weeks, we saw the equivalent of five years’ worth of digital transformation in that short period of time. The impact of that towards our economy to productivity will be of immeasurable benefit coming through the other side of COVID. So, we want to find ways to continue to support, with the least pain, that kind of digital transformation. And I believe other APEC economies will be in the same place.”
  11. “I think we need to start turning the discussion around access to technology in the same way that we do some of those other very, very basic tools to participate in society. And when we start thinking about it that way, we change what we do as governments. Someone described it very simply, recently, they said, 'I don't want any family to have to decide between bread or broadband'.”
  12. “Previously, something that we may have considered to be a luxury item, increasingly, is the difference between participation in community and society, accessing critical information in times of crisis or need, and accessing education. COVID-19, I think, has sped up our thinking in that space. Because previously, someone might say, ‘well, it's a luxury whether or not you choose or you have the ability to access Netflix’, but they would never argue whether it was a luxury to access your school homework or work program online. And yet, that's increasingly where our education is moving.”
  13. “We've moved towards … a view that, actually, there should be no such thing as, you know, a point that education ends, that we need to design systems that support lifelong learning. And I always view it as similar to a conveyor belt where we jump on and we just jump off at different times in our lives to skill, upskill and retrain and create an expectation for our younger people that that is going to be the future for them, particularly with such a changeable working environment for people.”
  14. “We also know the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. So, we are focusing on ensuring our recovery is inclusive by getting those people back into work quickly. And not just any work, but decent, meaningful work.”
  15. “Our recovery needs to focus very heavily on ensuring that we are focused on skills and trade training and job creation that equally addresses those hardest hit areas.”

  16. On cooperation and climate change action

  17. “If APEC economies are to continue to grow in the long-term, we must ensure growth is sustainable and inclusive.”
  18. “As we look to build back better from the COVID crisis, most of us around the region are making the choice to invest in infrastructure that will both grow jobs and put us on the decarbonization track.”
  19. “In New Zealand that is about the transition towards 100 percent renewable electricity and the choices that will move our transport fleet towards clean energy sources like hydrogen and biofuels.”
  20. “And on the trade front, we are engaged in negotiations towards an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability. This world-leading initiative aims to address a range of trade related issues that have the potential to contribute meaningfully to addressing climate change and other serious environmental issues.”
  21. “In their collective responsibility, the response from the international community is critical. Now, here we are, the other side of the world … contributing less than 1 percent of global emissions. And yet, if we, collectively, as an international community, do not address climate change, it is our region that will see immeasurable consequences in terms of sea level rises in some parts of the Pacific. No, this is not a hypothetical. They're already seeing their lives, their homes, threatened.”
  22. “Our view is that we need to have our own house in order. So, we've worked very hard to try and model our expectations we've seen in our own domestic legislation and the expectation of warming no greater than 1.5 degrees. We have zero-carbon legislation and an independent body that will assist the government to seek carbon budgets in order to reach our goals.”
  23. “By getting our own house in order that enables us then to go out into the business community and say, 'join us'.”
  24. “Yes, many legislative tools create trading systems, they incentivize a response to climate change. But I think there can be no greater incentive than just basic values of human dignity.”