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2015 Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting

Cebu, The Philippines | 08 September 2015

We, Ministers and high level officials of APEC economies, convened on 7-8 September 2015 in Cebu, Philippines, under the chairmanship of the Honorable Dr. Arsenio M. Balisacan, Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning and Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority of the Republic of the Philippines, to discuss the progress of APEC’s work on structural reform as currently embodied in the APEC New Strategy for Structural Reform (ANSSR), and to agree on its future direction post-2015.

We welcome the participation in the meeting of Dr. Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, and representatives from the World Bank, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the Asian Development Bank, the APEC Business Advisory Council, and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council.

We recall our Leaders’ agreement in Beijing in 2014 under the APEC Accord on Innovative Development, Economic Reform and Growth to convene a Ministerial Meeting on Structural Reform in 2015 in order to advance APEC’s economic reform agenda, discuss how to overcome the middle-income trap, and consider the continuation of the structural reform work program until 2020.

We note the uncertainty that continues to cloud the global economic scene. Although there are signs of recovery, the residual effects of the global financial crisis are still evident in many economies, even as new forms of trade and investment protectionism are on the rise. Within the APEC region, for some economies, sustaining growth rates has involved taking on higher debt levels. With labor costs rising, a number of middle income economies can no longer continue to rely on readily available cheap labor to boost growth, restricting their ability to graduate out of middle income status. At the same time, while growth in income per capita has occurred, income inequality has widened within APEC economies.

For this reason, we need a much stronger focus on promoting economic growth through structural reform.

We welcome the progress made in implementing structural reform under ANSSR. We recognize the importance of further intensifying this work: removing barriers to and identifying new sources of growth, promoting innovation, raising productivity, narrowing development gaps, and steering the world economy towards a path of greater shared prosperity consistent with this year’s theme of Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.

To advance our work on structural reform in the next five years until 2020, we have agreed to endorse the work program described in the paragraphs below, and embodied in the Renewed APEC Agenda for Structural Reform (RAASR), which strives to stimulate balanced and sustainable growth and reduce inequality.

Structural reform and inclusive growth

While absolute poverty has fallen and average income per capita has increased in the APEC region, growth in some cases has widened income disparities between the rich and poor. The benefits of rapid economic growth have been unevenly shared both across and within individual APEC economies. We note that there are groups (e.g. women, older workers and minorities), firms (e.g. micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs)) and regions that have benefited proportionately less from economic growth and globalization.

We are aware that inequality can undermine growth in the long-run by stunting private initiative and locking resources in low-productivity alternatives. We agree that structural reform, if implemented correctly, can provide for enhanced inclusion of hitherto underrepresented groups, firms, and regions by providing more opportunities to participate in and benefit from a growing economy. We support policies that are pro-development, strengthen markets, promote trade and investment, improve access to goods, services and labor markets, facilitate linkages to global value chains, and build resiliency against various shocks to advance inclusive growth.

We, therefore, instruct the Economic Committee to:

  1. Develop a policy framework on how structural reform, including those being initiated by other APEC committees and working groups, can contribute to inclusive growth;

  2. Develop a set of indicators for evaluating inclusiveness of structural reform policies (as a priority component of the indicators that are being developed with the APEC Policy Support Unit for the assessment of RAASR); and

  3. Share knowledge and experience relating to structural reforms that may affect inclusive growth, and identify policies to mitigate negative impacts, where warranted.

Structural reform and innovation

We acknowledge the importance of innovation in raising productivity and sustaining growth, as well as the key role of government in promoting an environment that rewards and enables innovation. We recognize moreover that given differences in their levels of development, APEC economies face different challenges with respect to creating the appropriate mix of policies to support innovation within their respective economies.

In particular, we note that innovation is especially critical for economies seeking to move from middle to high income status in order to avoid being caught in the “middle income trap”. For these economies, a wide range of reforms may be required. These reforms may include greater market access, increased market competition, improvements in the regulatory environment, protection of intellectual property rights including trade secrets, and private sector participation in infrastructure. In addition to a growth-enabling environment and incentives for firms to innovate, the stability, predictability, and effectiveness of public sector institutions is essential to the success of policy reforms encouraging innovation in economies trying to overcome the “middle income trap.”

It is generally accepted that government policy can help or hinder innovation. By setting and enforcing standard rules by which all players compete, governments can achieve a level playing field. Protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights including trade secrets are an important part of doing so. However, little systematic attention has been given to date to study the relationship between structural policies and innovation. We, therefore, commend the initiative to dedicate this year’s APEC Economic Policy Report (AEPR) to an analysis of the policy approaches to improve incentives for innovation in accordance with different levels of development, as well as in each area of the APEC Economic Committee’s work – regulatory reform, competition policy, corporate governance, strengthening economic and legal infrastructure and public sector governance. We look forward to the completion of the AEPR issue on Structural Reform and Innovation in November 2015.

We, therefore, instruct the Economic Committee to:

  1. Complete the APEC Economic Policy Report (AEPR) on Structural Reform and Innovation, and recommend its adoption at the APEC Ministers’ Meeting in November 2015;

  2. Further consider the impact of its work on structural reform and innovation for policies needed to address the middle income trap, and slowing growth potential in other economies; and

  3. Consider information sharing with other relevant APEC fora on the policy issues arising from the AEPR on Structural Reform and Innovation, such as education, public investment, quality ICT infrastructure, intellectual property rights protection, dissemination of technologies through licensing and partnership, and a business-friendly investment climate (especially for MSMEs), on the basis of consensus within the relevant fora.

Structural reform and services

We acknowledge the importance of the services sector as a major contributor to productivity growth in the APEC region and its growing role in generating growth in total output and export revenues. Technological progress has been a key factor, through lower costs and quality improvements, in expanding the range of services that are traded domestically and across borders. We further note that the efficiency and competitiveness of the services sector have substantial positive spillover effects on the performance of other sectors, such as agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. We recognize, in particular, that APEC is now working on manufacturing-related services in supply chains/value chains.

We recognize the job-creating potential of the services sector especially at a time of limited growth in the global economy. We are aware that the services sector is home to many MSMEs in developing economies and is thus closely related to inclusive growth. Moreover, we are cognizant of the efforts of many economies to diversify their sources of growth and to transition to alternative sources, including higher value-added manufacturing and knowledge intensive services.  

We understand that maintaining a productive, innovative, and competitive services sector is crucial to maximizing the benefits derived from it. We recognize the contribution that foreign participation can make towards facilitating the market-based diffusion of technology and management know-how, spurring innovation, exposing domestic services suppliers to foreign competition, raising domestic standards, reducing costs, and expanding the range of choices available to consumers and businesses. APEC economies that are serious about taking advantage of the benefits of a dynamic and vibrant services sector need to consider unilateral regulatory reform of their services sectors as well as opening up these sectors to foreign participation and competition.

We recognize the challenges to unleashing the potential of the services sector to contribute further to growth and employment generation: The first challenge is to address services and investment restrictions which limit market access, discriminate against foreign suppliers, and impose regulations that are more burdensome and trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve policy objectives.  The second is for economies to prioritize services in their development agenda. The third involves balancing competing objectives without prejudice to the right to regulate. The fourth is to reduce unnecessary regulatory heterogeneity which could raise the cost for service providers. Finally, the fifth is mitigating regulatory externalities, or accounting for the effects of regulation in one economy on the consumers of the service in another economy.

We agree that APEC, through the Economic Committee and other APEC bodies, should encourage economies to continue undertaking unilateral reforms in their services sectors. In this connection, we welcome the Philippines’ initiative this year to launch the APEC Services Cooperation Framework (ASCF), which will provide a common direction and more coherence in APEC’s work on services and help economies increase their focus on developing stronger services sectors.

We welcome the integration of services reform into RAASR. We support regulatory cooperation as one of the mechanisms for facilitating market opening, harmonization, and mutual recognition, thus reducing the costs of regulatory heterogeneity for firms. Existing APEC work on promoting Good Regulatory Practices offers a good starting point for advancing new initiatives in regulatory cooperation. We welcomed the organization of a joint meeting of the Economic Committee, the Group on Services and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council on “The Role of Regulatory Reform/Good Practices in Promoting Services Growth.”

We, therefore, instruct the Economic Committee to:

  1. Work on structural reform and services as one of the priorities for APEC, specifically:

    • To raise the importance of services in RAASR;

    • To encourage economies to implement unilateral reforms aimed at further improving the services sector, as part of their structural reform action plans under RAASR; and

    • For the APEC Economic Policy Report 2016 to focus on structural reform and services.

  1. Support the initiative to develop an APEC Services Cooperation Framework (ASCF), specifically:

  • To closely collaborate with the Committee on Trade and Investment (CTI)/Group on Services (GoS) and other fora, as appropriate,

    • To conduct public-private dialogues;

    • To conduct dialogues with sectoral regulators, policy makers, and business (through APEC cross-fora dialogue and cooperation); and

    • To consider developing a joint work program with GoS, which may include producing a set of recommendations for domestic regulation of the services sectors.

Tools for structural reform

APEC’s work on structural reform has identified a number of tools that economies can use to implement successful structural reform programs.

We laud the progress that has been made in defining and implementing Good Regulatory Practices (GRP), which increase the likelihood of good regulatory outcomes. In particular, we note the progress in such areas as coordination of rule-making activity, transparency and public participation, regulatory impact analysis (RIA), regulatory planning, ex-post evaluation, and international regulatory cooperation.

We recognize the importance of work to develop model legal instruments and commend APEC work in this area in collaboration with the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). We agree that the development of international legal instruments and their adoption will create a more conducive climate for cross-border trade and investment, thus facilitating economic growth. Use of these instruments provides greater legal certainty in cross border transactions, harmonization of finance and dispute resolution systems, closer economic and legal integration among cooperating economies, and the simplification of procedures involved in international transactions. 

We agree that APEC should further advance its work on GRP and model legal instruments through, among others, the application of these instruments to improve competition outcomes within APEC economies.

We, therefore, instruct the Economic Committee to:

  1. Encourage economies to increase their efforts to promote international regulatory cooperation;

  2. Consider holding a 2016 APEC GRP Conference on the theme of building high level support for reform (which includes international regulatory cooperation);

  3. Consider ways to facilitate stakeholder participation in public consultation processes throughout the APEC region, that are open to both domestic and foreign stakeholders;

  4. Promote awareness and wider use of international legal instruments to strengthen the legal infrastructure of APEC economies; and

  5. Encourage member economies to undertake a self-assessment of barriers to competition, including a review of current competition laws and policies.

New directions for structural reform in APEC

We acknowledge the contribution of ANSSR in raising the profile of structural reform issues in APEC and in promoting work within APEC economies to implement programs of structural reform. We endorse the assessment of ANSSR completed by the APEC Policy Support Unit (PSU) and the review of ANSSR completed by the Economic Committee.

Because structural reform is an ongoing process rather than a one-off event, we agree that the initiatives begun under ANSSR ought to be continued. We further note that a sharpening of the focus of APEC’s structural reform goals is needed, rather than a drastic departure from the existing APEC framework for structural reform. We assert that economies should pursue both goals of reducing inequality and stimulating balanced and sustainable growth, which are complementary in the long-run.

We support the re-statement of the priority areas to better reflect current and emerging economic opportunities and challenges. We accept the following three pillars, which are inter-related, as guideposts for the nomination of concrete reform actions by economies in RAASR (2016-2020), namely:

  1. more open, well-functioning, transparent and competitive markets;

  2. deeper participation in those markets by all segments of society, including MSMEs, women, youth, older workers, and people with disabilities; and

  3. sustainable social policies that promote the above-mentioned objectives, enhance economic resilience, and are well-targeted, effective, and non-discriminatory.

We commit to strengthening and enhancing the economic relevance and scope of individual economy action plans under RAASR through:

  1. increased consultation and engagement with business, both at the individual economy level, and through APEC and ABAC;

  2. encouraging economies to nominate reform actions under all pillars and across all sectors;

  3. the convening in 2018 of a high-level structural reform officials’ meeting to assess progress with RAASR; and

  4. the convening in 2020 of the third Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting to evaluate the results of the RAASR implementation.

We agree to using quantitative indicators to measure APEC-wide progress on structural reform and support an APEC structural reform progress report developed by the APEC PSU with the Economic Committee, as part of the mid-term review of RAASR in 2018 and a final review in 2020.

We instruct the Economic Committee to finalize the attached draft of RAASR (2016-2020) based on the above recommendations for consideration by Ministers in November.

Ease of Doing Business:

Regarding the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB), we recognize the contribution made by EoDB to remedy impediments to trade and commerce by lowering registration and transactions costs in the APEC region through targeted and tangible programs of work within defined indicator areas.

We agree with, and further recommend to APEC Economic Leaders to affirm, the new aspirational goal of a 10-percent improvement by 2018 in the existing five priority EoDB areas (i.e. starting a business, dealing with construction permits, trading across borders, getting credit, and enforcing contracts).

We also agree with and endorse the attached APEC EoDB Action Plan, 2016-2018 and submit it to APEC Economic Leaders for their consideration.

We, therefore, instruct the Economic Committee to draft and utilize the APEC EoDB Implementation Plan to guide capacity building over the next three years.