Guest post from Tenby Powell, Hunter Powell Investments, founder of the NZ SME Business Network and past-Chair of the Small Business Development Group
The importance of ‘staying the course’ on trade liberalisation, but making globalisation work better –for small business, for individuals and for communities – was a key theme of meetings of senior business leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region that I attended last week in Seoul.
I was in Korea for meetings of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and the Asia-Pacific Financial Forum, having recently been appointed as one of the three New Zealand members (including Katherine Rich of the Food & Grocery Council and Phil O’Reilly of Iron Duke Partners).
Despite heightened geopolitical tensions on the Korean peninsula at present, I’m pleased to report that the Council – representing the business communities of the 21 APEC economies – was united in its commitment to deepening and strengthening economic integration to help deliver a more stable, prosperous and peaceful region.
One of the key themes discussed was how best to achieve the APEC vision of “inclusive and sustainable growth”, particularly in the current climate of anxiety around globalisation. ABAC agreed that we needed to press on with trade liberalisation, while ensuring that practical domestic policies, like structural reform, skills training and education, and targeted social safety nets, to help share the benefits of more open markets more widely. It is essential that we do not leave behind individuals, small business owners and communities as we seek to advance the prosperity of our region overall.
We also agreed that a lot more needs to be done to communicate the benefits of trade more persuasively. Governments and business have fallen short of this to date and we are hoping that a targeted research project, commissioned by ABAC and run by fellow New Zealander, Professor Carl Voigt of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, will enable our better understanding of the dynamics of globalisation, technology and inclusive growth.
I was active in discussion on MSMEs (Micro Small Medium Enterprises) in particular, and was pleased to have the opportunity to hear presentations on the interesting work underway on FinTech and financing issues, including how to ensure that MSMEs can participate more effectively in global value chains and world markets. The numbers around participation in the digital economy and mobile technology are overwhelming – in China mobile payments have grown by nearly 400 percent over the last five years and now exceed other forms of payments made over the internet. There is huge potential in this space for New Zealand SMEs, but it will demand some strategic thinking on technology and trends, including the relationship between credit cards and more innovative forms of payment.
Katherine Rich gave well-received presentations on non-tariff barriers and on new ideas around liberalising trade in food-related services, which has the potential to be a win-win for not only New Zealand food exporters and service providers but also regional food security more generally. And Phi O’Reilly’s Business NZ experience came to the fore in discussions on manufacturing and exporting on numerous occasions.
Overall, it was an excellent introduction to ABAC and to the warm hospitality of Seoul!