Uniting to build a Revitalised Asia-Pacific Economic Community

10:50:23 AM | 11/19/2020

Asia-Pacific business leaders are urging APEC governments to work together to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and to adopt a strong Vision that demonstrates APEC members’ collective commitment to international cooperation and serves as a framework for the sustained economic recovery and growth of the region.

The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) met virtually on November 17th, in the lead up to the meeting of APEC Economic Leaders on 20 November 2020.

 “These are unprecedented times, demanding bold responses. The world faces the greatest health and economic crisis of a hundred years,” said the Chair of ABAC, Dato Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood. “These challenges demand cooperation, coordination and collaboration.  We are strongest when we act together.”

Dato Rohana added that this was a major theme for ABAC. “We are calling for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. The values that have guided us this year – of integration, innovation and inclusion – are critical to recovery for us all.”

“We want a region that responds collectively to shared challenges. A region that values the connections between us – including free and open trade and investment, and a dynamic digital economy.  Neighbours who help each other in times of need, respect each other’s differences, and remain committed to greater inclusion and equity.  A region that protects its natural environment, including taking urgent action on climate change,” Dato Rohana added.

Dato Rohana noted that these ideas underpinned the recommendations that ABAC has conveyed in this year’s Report to APEC Economic Leaders.

Dato Rohana explained that ABAC’s Report builds on the recommendations made in July to Trade Ministers on tackling the immediate crisis.  She added that, crisis response remains a pressing concern in many economies, and requires an ongoing focus on ensuring access to essential medical supplies and services, including a vaccine; keeping supply chains functioning and avoiding fragmented policy approaches, including in the digital economy and the safe resumption of travel. These would serve to revive the business activities and market demand that would accelerate global economic recovery.

Arcording to Dr Vu Tien Loc, Chair of The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), ASEAN and the global economy are at an historic turning point. The Covid-19 pandemic is one of several occurrences that make this a time of global reckoning. This global health and economic crisis requirestrans-border solutions. Governments, people, and business communities must come together to deal with a double dilemma: how to manage the worsening public health threat and at the same time stimulate economic growth. Never before in recent history has partnership between the public and private sectors become such a matter of necessity, if we are to overcome these challenges. And yet, never before in recent history has there been a better opportunity to listen to, contribute to, and learn from important leaders as the world community contemplates the impacts and opportunities before us.

For the longer term, ABAC had focused on three main areas.

First, economic integration has been APEC’s touchstone for quarter of a century, and will be fundamental to a return to growth.  That means building the foundations for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, and championing the multilateral rules-based trading system, with the World Trade Organisation at its core.

“We need to prioritise policies that are conducive to international trade, resist calls to undercut competitiveness with protectionist quick fixes, and ensure that the WTO remains relevant and fit-for-purpose” added Dato Rohana.

The second major area was innovation. The pandemic had dramatically demonstrated not only the importance of digital connectivity, but also the need to target disparities in internet access, digital skills and policies to foster an open, non-discriminatory and coherent digital economy.

Finally, COVID-19 had simultaneously made greater inclusion a more difficult goal to achieve, but also a more imperative one.  “We cannot ignore the issue of rising inequality and the ever-greater discontent and loss of trust that it fosters.  In rebuilding now, we must lift up the smallest of our businesses, women, our indigenous communities, youth, and other disadvantaged groups,” said Dato Rohana. “Our economic recovery must not leave these groups behind.”

She added that these elements would all go to building greater resilience – especially as the region faced not only the risk of future health crises, but also accelerating climate change.  “There is an urgent need to reverse the dramatic decline in the health of our planet and embrace the transition to a low-carbon economy.  We owe this to our people – to the communities of future generations - and we cannot fail to take action,” concluded Dato Rohana.

Huong Ly (Vietnam Business Forum)