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Remarks by ABAC Chair Rachel Taulelei to the Pacific Alliance Business Council-ABAC Joint Meeting, 6 October 2021

by | Oct 6, 2021 | Trade In The News





6 OCTOBER 2021




Opening remarks

Tēnā koutou katoa, e ngā rangatira mā, señores, señoras muy buenos tardes (or maybe I should say buenas noches given the time for many of you!)

It is a pleasure for us at ABAC to join with the Pacific Alliance Business Council for this first virtual joint meeting.

My warm thanks to my friend Richard von Appen and to ABAC Chile for bringing us together today.

To Señor Carlos Ignacio Gallegos, it is an honour to meet you and your colleagues.

It seems to me that our two organisations could be described as distant cousins.

We both care about the same thing – the ability to do business successfully in the Asia Pacific region we both call our home.

Three out of four Pacific Alliance members are members of APEC. 

The Pacific Alliance has also been reaching out wider as the four economies have sought to negotiate partnership agreements with others in the region

Singapore, always a front runner, became in July this year the first to conclude an FTA and be granted the status as associate state.

We hope other APEC economies, including my own – New Zealand – will not be far behind.

That’s because in ABAC we see an expanded Pacific Alliance as a pathway to a future Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).

A good start has been made in that three of the Pacific Alliance’s members are also members of CPTPP – and let me say clearly here today that we would welcome Colombia’s expression of interest to join CPTPP also.

CPTPP is an ambitious, high quality and comprehensive agreement which has already delivered benefits in terms of increased trade to those members who have ratified.  

CPTPP is also attracting new interest as a standard for high quality global trade liberalisation – the United Kingdom, China and Chinese Taipei – are all seeking to join.

We also welcome the deepening of links across our region through the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement, or DEPA – in which of course Pacific Alliance member Chile joins with APEC members New Zealand and Singapore to develop frameworks for cutting-edge digital economy policy.

Setting high standards is important for the future of trade and investment in our region.

It is only high standard, comprehensive market access that can open markets and lead to new trade and new business taking place.

It is only high standard trade rules that can help ensure that trade agreements reflect the way business is being done today and can take into account the increasing demands for better inclusion and more sustainability.

It is only high standard agreements like CPTPP and the Pacific Alliance, and innovation in models like DEPA, that can serve as exemplars to the multilateral trade community in the World Trade Organisation, which risks becoming obsolete if some greater vision cannot be developed.

I said a moment ago that we are like distant cousins, but maybe we have not invested the time and energy to get to know each other better.

We are making a start on this today and I look forward to the discussion that will follow.

It is important to bear in mind however that while we may be related, ABAC has a specific mandate in relation to APEC – we provide advice to APEC Economic Leaders, Ministers and Senior Officials.

Unlike PABC we are not an implementation body – quite often we have to leave to others, notably our government colleagues, the task of taking our advice forward.

I’m sure that as we talk more about each other’s role and activities we will find areas where we can derive mutual advantage from a closer alignment.

In the language of the Māori people of Aotearoa New Zealand, there is an important concept called “whanaungatanga” – this means relationship, or a sense of family connection gained through shared experiences and by working together.

I am delighted that today we can get to know our Pacific Alliance “whanaunga” a little better and can reflect on the specific roles we play to contribute to the success of the Asia Pacific region.

ABAC’s work and priorities 

Kia ora anō and a warm welcome once again to all Members from both organisations joining us today.

To get into the heart of the matter, let me outline for you the main priorities for ABAC this year.

I said to you earlier that our job was to give advice to APEC Economic Leaders, Ministers and Senior Officials.

We elaborate this advice through a series of meetings normally held in four different cities around the region which bring together our 63 members (three from each economy) and a host of very hard-working staffers.

This year in the light of the pandemic we have had to adapt our processes to move online to four virtual plenary meetings backed up by a series of virtual gatherings, over 60 in fact held over the course of the year.

Our ABAC Members will tell you this was no easy task, but by taking a consistent and focused approach we were able at our third meeting in August to adopt our final report which will be released on 28 October and discussed with APEC Economic Leaders themselves (again virtually) on 12 November. 

Our report contains 43 recommendations and is divided into five sections with five supporting annexes and has been developed under the theme of “People, Place and Prosperity” – or “Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura”, in the Maori language.

The sections reflect the pillars of our work this year in relation to:

  • Regional Economic Integration
  • Sustainability
  • Inclusion
  • Digital; and 
  • Economy.

Consistent with our theme, we have emphasised throughout the importance of putting people first.

The most urgent priority in these difficult times is clearly to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible and to use the levers to trade to deliver tariff-free access to vaccines and other essential medical services.

That is the key to overcoming the health crisis, to enabling us to reopen borders safely and seamlessly and also to the critical work of restarting the engines for growth. 

To give you a brief sense of what else the Report contains, under Regional Economic Integration, we are calling on APEC to demonstrate the leadership it has shown in the past, in championing a credible and relevant World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Also critical, as I mentioned earlier, is to continue to build towards a future FTAAP by taking practical and meaningful steps now in relation to the further liberalisation of trade in goods as well as services and investment.

Under Sustainability we have developed a set of Climate Leadership Principles for Business and a framework for trade and investment in renewable energy which we want to see adopted more broadly – I commend in particular the Climate Leadership Principles to you for further study and reflection.

We have also been active in the discussions to develop a whole-of system Roadmap for trade-friendly and digitally enhanced food security.

Under Inclusion, we call for capacity-building and structural reform to empower small businesses, women and Indigenous communities. 

In July this year, we hosted the first ever ABAC Indigenous Business Leaders Dialogue and the recommendations from that event are set out in an Annex as a way to bring the Indigenous voice directly to Leaders.  We were delighted to have participants from Chile, Peru and Mexico involved.

Under Digital we recognise the urgent need to realise the potential of the digital economy through upgrading skills, investing in infrastructure and enabling more seamless, interoperable digital trade – my colleague Stephanie Honey will be talking more about this shortly.

Under Economy we put forward our views on Covid recovery, structural reform, planning for disaster preparedness and for financial system capability building.

Above all, our recommendations taken together recognise that our region is deeply interconnected: our people’s wellbeing, and a prosperous, peaceful and resilient future, will only be achieved by working together in community. 

That idea of ‘community’ is fundamental to APEC’s Putrajaya Vision 2040 adopted just last year – the delivery of a Roadmap to achieve this Vision is a key deliverable for New Zealand this year and ABAC has made several submissions to this process.

In the course of the year we have had several engagements with APEC Ministers and Senior Officials and have more to come in the next few weeks before we present our advice to Leaders.

Then it is the task of the incoming ABAC Chair Thailand to start the cycle of work again and to continue the stream of advice to APEC.

I am glad that our Thai colleague Dr Poj is with us today and will make some closing remarks to our meeting.

If we were to use a sporting analogy to describe our work it would be a marathon rather than a sprint: our focus is on the longer term health and success of the Asia Pacific region and the role of business and business leaders in that important task.


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