Businesspeople and advocates for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, urged the region’s leaders to use APEC as an avenue for achieving more progress, such as developing workers’ skills for the digital economy or deepening policy reforms.
“The world needs an organization a lot like APEC going forward. Not a negotiating organization, but a consensus-building organization that works on new areas,” said Ho Meng Kit, CEO of the Singapore Business Federation, at an APEC policy forum attended by leading figures of the diplomatic corps, the business community and academia.
“The world needs APEC more than ever,” Ho continued. “This is one point that we want to make to APEC’s leaders: let’s preserve the institutional value of APEC.”
The forum, hosted by the APEC Secretariat and APEC Chile 2019, highlighted both APEC’s successes and the challenges it faces ahead.
Since the establishment of APEC in 1989, economic growth fueled by trade – which grew at an average rate of 7.1 per cent per year – has lifted a billion people out of poverty and many into the middle class.
Today, the growth of merchandise trade – of exports and imports, in both volume and value – is moderating. In 2018, APEC exports fell to below half of the global total, from a little above 50 per cent in previous years, according to the most recent APEC Regional Trends and Analysis report. At the same time, trade restrictive measures are increasing.
Hairil Yahri Yaacob, Deputy Secretary-General of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia, the host of APEC next year, said that working towards more equitable sharing of prosperity can help strengthen public confidence in free and open trade.
“It is very important that all the benefits do not just go to big businesses or the big players, but must trickle down to the person on the street,” said Yaacob.
Chile, APEC host economy for 2019, typifies how trade and APEC membership can boost growth, said Mathias Francke, Chair of APEC Senior Officials this year.
Since joining APEC 25 years ago, Chile’s exports to the Asia-Pacific have grown 800 per cent and generated a million jobs. With 16 free trade agreements with Asia-Pacific economies in place, almost two-thirds of Chile’s trade is with APEC.
Chile has set several goals for its host year, including a roadmap to address marine debris as well as for strengthening women’s role in the economy. Top of the list on Chile’s agenda is maintaining “a strong commitment to free trade, to the multilateral system, to the WTO, to the reform of the WTO, and to the FTAAP (a Free Trade Area for the Asia Pacific),” said Francke.
The priorities that Chile has set this year, which includes promoting a digital society and sustainable growth, illustrate how APEC tackles challenges beyond trade.
Said APEC Secretariat Executive Director Dr. Rebecca Sta Maria: “We face growing income inequality, climate change and disruptive technology. APEC’s voluntary approach to cooperation can help members to navigate these cross-border complexities and find solutions.”
Other speakers at the forum included Singapore’s renowned Ambassador-at-large H.E. Tommy Koh, New Zealand’s High Commissioner to Singapore H.E. Joanne Tyndall, Chile’s Ambassador to Singapore H.E. James Sinclair, Director of the APEC Policy Support Unit Dr. Denis Hew, and Dr. Pablo Lizana, President of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
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