Senior Officials Lean in Together on Trade as Uncertainties Loom Large
Wellington, New Zealand, 03 September 2021
APEC senior officials are convening to push bold and practical trade policies, seeking to secure recovery as the uncertainty of the pandemic looms large over efforts to prepare for future shocks.
“APEC is at a critical juncture as we grapple with the prolonged economic and health crisis. APEC has a responsibility to chart the way forward in order to achieve strong, balanced, secure, sustainable and inclusive growth across the region,” noted Vangelis Vitalis, the 2021 New Zealand Chair of APEC Senior Officials.
“In the midst of these uncertainties, member economies are joining and working together based on our shared belief that more trade and more openness, together with structural reform and enhanced collaboration represent the best response to the pandemic,” added Vitalis, who is also the Deputy Secretary for Trade and Economic Affairs of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Officials have been mandated by ministers to consider how trade can help address the immediate crisis and help drive economic recovery across the region. This includes work on how to ensure vaccine manufacturing, supply and distribution, supporting global vaccine-sharing efforts, and addressing barriers to the flow of essential goods and services that can help address the pandemic, in a bid to ensure that the region’s health systems cover all people.
A recent economic update by the APEC Policy Support Unit showed that the recovery is still heavily dependent on vaccination progress and distribution across the region. Despite varied rollouts, positive economic growth of 6.4 percent is expected for APEC this year.
APEC policy groups and senior officials reported on progress made to realize the 2020 Ministers’ Responsible for Trade Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods, including work on vaccines and related goods and services, as well as medical supplies and digital trade.
“There are a number of initiatives that we would like to advance, including to modernize the list of environmental goods and services as a contribution to sustainability,” said Vitalis.
Originally agreed in 2012 to reduce tariffs to no more than 5 percent, the APEC List of Environmental Goods covers 54 products that positively contribute to green growth and sustainable development. APEC remains the only intergovernmental body with an agreed list of environmental goods. Work is underway to consider the identification of environmental services as a complement to the ongoing work on goods.
“We are also working to find commonalities between the 21 member economies on how we can boost digital trade in the region through the internet and digital economy roadmap, while at the same time addressing gaps that allow everyone to enjoy the benefits of this sector,” he added.
Vitalis also highlighted New Zealand’s role as host of APEC 2021 in converting the APEC vision of an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040—known as the Putrajaya Vision—into a program of work and implementation plan relevant to challenges APEC economies face today and over the next two decades.
“There is rising protectionism across the world, which challenges all of us to rethink and lean in to support the fundamentals of regional economic integration and the international trade architecture,” Vitalis added.
“On top of that, the social license 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.”
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