Senior Officials Expedite Regional Response to COVID-19, Push Recovery Process

Wellington, New Zealand, 12 March 2021
  • Issued by the Senior Officials' Meeting

Senior officials from 21 APEC member economies are convening virtually to expedite a regional response to the lasting impact of COVID-19 in a bid to boost the recovery process.

The two-day Senior Officials’ Meeting comes on the heels of intensive discussion about how APEC will carry forward the commitments leaders made in 2020 and the development of a 20-year implementation plan, taking into consideration the challenges and risks exposed by the pandemic.

“We are facing quite a serious challenge this year, driven in part by the health catastrophe that we all face across our region, but also the serious economic challenges that now confront our economies as we look to find a way through this crisis,” says Vangelis Vitalis, Chair of APEC 2021 Senior Officials.

Set against a backdrop of looming uncertainty, wider inequality risk and rising protectionism, Vitalis stresses the importance of capturing and featuring all these challenges as senior officials deliberate policy measures and their concerted regional effort to drive recovery.

“There is rising protectionism across the world, which challenges all of us to re-think the fundamentals of regional economic integration,” Vitalis says. “On top of that, the social licence for trade policy and for economic integration is increasingly under strain as we witness the unequal impact of COVID-19 on women, small businesses and indigenous peoples.”

“As a region, we need to work together to ensure APEC effectively responds, not just to the immediate crisis, but also to the longer-term need to build a sustainable and resilient regional economy that benefits everyone.”

In this dialogue, senior officials will seek to realize the need for APEC to be more sustainable and inclusive of all people, including women and indigenous people. The focus will be to support their full participation in the region’s economy so it can help drive new thinking and unlock new ways to respond to the global pandemic.

Officials will also discuss measures to respond to the pandemic through economic and trade policies that strengthen the recovery year. This includes policies that encourage openness and connectivity, as well as reduce friction at the border, with an aim of reducing barriers and making it easier for companies to trade throughout the APEC region, especially on COVID-19 essential goods.

Advancing digital inclusion, infrastructure and green technology will also be a key focus for APEC this year. This includes promoting digitally-enabled business and trade, working toward regulatory coherence and resolving issues concerning data and digital trade tools.

“APEC, as a regional forum needs to seize the moment and rise to the occasion by putting together a concrete response that will benefit all,” says APEC Secretariat’s Executive Director, Dr Rebecca Sta Maria. “We want to see policy that continues to make trade and investment across markets easier, cheaper, faster and more sustainable to avoid undermining the significant progress that has been achieved in the region in these areas.”

Vitalis agrees by emphasizing the importance of APEC economies working together to end subsidies on fossil fuels and lowering tariffs on environmental goods and exploring similar work in  services.

“APEC needs to show leadership in this area, as is expected from the world’s most dynamic regional economy,” he says.

“Trade policy should be inclusive and beneficial for all, and trade an enabler of solutions to some of the most pressing sustainability issues we all face. Identifying environmental goods and services and addressing barriers to their uptake, for instance, can contribute to our collective climate change mitigation efforts.”

This year will be a significant year for APEC and New Zealand. With the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 agreed by leaders last year, member economies will now need to develop a detailed plan of action to implement the new vision, which will expand on the three economic drivers of growth: trade and investment; innovation and digitalization; and strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth.

“The key is for APEC to be both responsive to the immediate crisis but also relevant to the challenges we are all going to confront over the next 20 years,” explains Vitalis.

“We are looking to work together with all APEC member economies to develop this implementation plan in the spirit of what the Putrajaya Vision talks about in terms of the equal partnership. Large or small, we were all equal in this important process,” he concludes.

For further details, please contact:

Masyitha Baziad +65 9751 2146 at [email protected]
Michael Chapnick +65 9647 4847 at [email protected]