BY CONTRIBUTED REPORT
More than 2,000 delegates from the 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member economies, including the Philippines, are convening in Seattle for the Third APEC Senior Officials’ and Ministerial Meetings (SOM3).
Spanning nearly three weeks, from July 29 through August 21, these meetings will advance a broad range of economic priorities within the Asia-Pacific region including on disaster management, finance, food security, health, energy and small and medium-sized enterprises, in addition to the APEC Digital Month, an initiative by the APEC 2023 to achieve an interconnected, innovative and inclusive digital economy.
Multiple cabinet officials from the United States, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra; and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm will host their counterparts while in Seattle, and showcase the vibrant city as the center of international commerce.
Over the next three weeks, officials and ministers are meeting against the backdrop of a weak global economy outlook and fragmentation, persistently high inflation, as well as extreme heat caused by El Niño – all of which hamper economic recovery as the region emerges from COVID-19.
“The main focus of APEC has always been trade and investment liberalization,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, APEC Secretariat Executive Director. “However, we need to broaden our work and push for a greener and more inclusive future despite differing views on geopolitical matters.”
“Contrary to perceptions, APEC member economies continue to deepen our engagement and are united on the issues of climate change and ensuring that trade and investment bring benefits to all,” Dr Sta Maria added.
“APEC provides governments the platform for robust and candid discussions, share best practices and explore policy levers to implement effective structural reforms to ensure a more resilient and inclusive economic growth.”
These goals will be reinforced as APEC ministers in charge of disaster management, food security, health, energy, women, and the economy, as well as small and medium-sized enterprises meet in Seattle this month.
US cabinet officials, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra; and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, will host their counterparts while in Seattle, engage with local communities, and showcase the vibrant city as the center of international commerce.
“This meeting cluster builds upon work in previous meetings held in Detroit and Palm Springs where we advanced our objectives to create green jobs; shape the digital economy; and build economic resilience and recovery, which will pave the way for further cooperation among APEC economies,” said Matt Murray, United States Senior Official.
Seattle is no stranger to APEC. In 1993, the United States hosted the first APEC Leaders’ Meeting on Blake Island in Puget Sound, off the coast of Seattle.
Murray added that Seattle is home to top US firms in key services and manufacturing sectors, and is a major exporter of manufactured goods, agricultural products, as well as advanced technologies and services to the Asia-Pacific region, which accounts for more than 75 percent of the metro area’s trade.
“It is thus a fitting venue to demonstrate the strong public-private partnership, which is the secret sauce of APEC’s success over the years. We will use this opportunity to highlight this relationship and strengthen our engagement with other stakeholders as well."
As part of the APEC 2023’s Digital Pacific Agenda, this cluster of meetings will also include a series of events and activities focused on digital innovation, technology and entrepreneurship, called APEC Digital Month: Building a Digital Pacific for All.
Seattle is an appropriate setting for this final cluster of technical meetings before the culmination of the US host year when APEC economic leaders meet in San Francisco in November.
Meanwhile, meeting in Cebu, the Philippines, this week, the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) stressed the need for action in an increasingly fragmented and difficult operating environment.
“Our theme for this year is equity, sustainability, opportunity," said Dominic Ng, Chair of ABAC 2023. "Achieving these goals has never been more vital, nor more challenging, as we face ongoing economic instability, grave climate impacts and disruption from emerging technologies such as generative Artificial Intelligence."
Ng explained that ABAC had finalized its recommendations to APEC Leaders this week, which it would present formally to the leaders at their meeting in San Francisco in November. It had also prepared detailed recommendations to ministers of finance, health, food security, women and small businesses.
President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr. opened the meeting on Friday with an address in which he highlighted the importance of public-private sector collaboration in tackling the major challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region. Opening remarks from Secretary for Trade and Industry Alfredo Pascual similarly stressed the importance of working together on economic integration and trade facilitation, including in the World Trade Organization.
“In our report to leaders, we have identified a range of concrete actions that would advance equity by making it easier for groups with untapped economic potential, including micro-, small and medium-sized businesses, women and Indigenous entrepreneurs, to engage in commerce," Ng noted. "We have also developed a dynamic toolkit to boost supply chain resilience, drawing on the lessons of the disruptions of the last few years, which will be an important resource for small businesses."
“Recent heatwaves in North America highlight the need to prioritize responses to the climate crisis and other sustainability challenges,” Ng said, noting that the world experienced the hottest week in recorded history earlier in July.
“Market-based policies, trade in environmental goods and services and renewable energy, and initiatives that leverage private sector capital, ingenuity, and leadership have considerable promise, but policymakers also need to act urgently to reduce emissions, adapt to a low-carbon economy and energy, and ensure a just transition for all in our communities.”
ABAC will keep a close watch on the development of carbon border adjustment measures, on which it commissioned a report this year, and remains wary of the potential impacts of ‘green protectionism’.
ABAC also made a range of recommendations designed to boost economic opportunities, by fostering a more seamless business environment, including by continuing to work towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
“Besides getting the trade policies right, digital technologies will be key to this," Ng said. "We have developed some important action points on paperless trade and financing, cybersecurity, and other areas”.
He added that ABAC is calling for new policies to increase the number of women engaging in STEM careers. “This just makes sense, not only for greater inclusion, but also better digital outcomes.”
“We also discussed the emergence of generative artificial intelligence. This raises new concerns about ethical governance, responsible development and workforce impacts, along with potential economic and productivity gains,” he added. “Policymakers are scrambling to respond–the business community needs to be part of the conversation.”
Ng expressed his gratitude to ABAC Philippines colleagues, led by Sabin Aboitiz, for hosting the meeting and creating opportunities for ABAC delegates to engage with senior government representatives from central and local government agencies as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders from Cebu.
The ABAC meeting was preceded by a supply chain resilience capacity building workshop co-organized by ABAC USA and ABAC Philippines with support from the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Nearly 200 representatives from Cebu-based companies attended the session to learn about ways to make their businesses more resilient in the face of uncertainty.
Concurrent with the session, ABAC launched an online MSME Supply Chain Resilience Toolkit that companies can use to assess strengths and vulnerabilities in their operations. The Toolkit can be accessed here: https://supplychainresiliencetoolkit.ncapec.org/.
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