by | Feb 28, 2023 | Trade Working Blog


Perhaps a cyclone was after all a fitting backdrop for the meeting of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) which was held in Auckland on 12-14 February – the global environment against which the meeting took place is decidedly stormy.  In the event the wind raged and sandbags lined the entrance to the Cordis hotel, but the meeting successfully launched ABAC’s 2023 work programme with Dominic Ng of the United States in the Chair.   As we now sadly know, other parts of Aotearoa did not escape Gabrielle’s wrath and our hearts go out to the people and businesses in the severely affected regions.

ABAC getting back to business

This was not the first ABAC meeting held in New Zealand (we hosted in 2009, 2014 and 2018) nor during a big storm nor the first since the pandemic waned to allow in-person meetings. Nonetheless it was special for ABAC NZ in that in our APEC host year of 2021 all meetings were held virtually.  This was a chance to offer some manaakitanga to our guests and to show them New Zealand’s business capabilities particularly in innovation and sustainability as well as trade. Some 132 ABAC delegates (Members, APEC Senior Officials, Staffers and Guests) finally made it to Auckland and while a “safety first” approach meant some changes to the programme, the business sessions continued largely uninterrupted.

This was a chance to offer some manaakitanga to our guests and to show them New Zealand’s business capabilities particularly in innovation and sustainability as well as trade.

We were delighted that Prime Minister Chris Hipkins was still able to drop in to the welcome reception after attending to urgent cyclone preparations. Despite the grim weather the Prime Minister spoke about the importance of trade with the APEC region and the strength of ABAC as APEC’s business voice. 

The cyclone lent a particular poignancy to the discussions on sustainability and the impact of climate change. ABAC NZ Member Malcolm Johns has played a vital role in this work for the last three years and continued to lead climate-related work during his final ABAC meeting.  ABAC NZ Member Rachel Taulelei, supported by Lead Staffer Stephanie Honey, led the work on economic integration, including strengthening the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and realising the Free Trade Area of Asia and the Pacific (FTAAP), building on a work plan established last year.  Other important topics covered at ABAC included supply chain management, trade and climate and the role of the digital economy and paperless trade.

Showcasing New Zealand

A number of kiwis addressed the meeting.  Simon Bridges of Auckland Business Chamber, Andrew Grant from McKinsey & Co, Simon Tucker from Fonterra and Vangelis Vitalis and Blake van Velden of MFAT all contributed valuable perspectives. Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor delivered his remarks to the opening plenary by video, encouraging ABAC to make practical and relevant recommendations to Ministers and Leaders.

While the weather made it impossible to take delegates to visit some of Auckland’s most innovative companies, two of them came to the hotel. Grant Verry, CEO of innovation hub Food Bowl, talked about the transformation it is effecting by fast-tracking small producers and generating exciting new Asia Pacific partnerships. Greg Cross of Soul Machines opened up a future of ‘digital people’, which are becoming more real and engaging and a powerful tool for business.

Genesis Energy hosted a Sustainability Lunch, supported by stunning kai moana from sponsor Moana New Zealand. Attendees heard from Malcolm Johns and Jolie Hodson (by video) about Spark’s sustainability journey. 

Rachel Taulelei chaired a Women’s Entrepreneurship Lunch featuring Oscar-winning film producer Chelsea Winstanley, optometrist and community health leader Renata Watene and fashion designer Kiri Nathan.  The lunch blended entrepreneurial flair with deep commitment to telling ‘stories’, changing lives and placing women and Indigenous people in the centre of it all.

Silver Fern Farms hosted a magnificent gala dinner, a festive celebration of delicious Net Zero Carbon beef and lamb with matching wines from Villa Maria’s Earth Garden collection. Two hundred guests enjoyed a stunning presentation of New Zealand ‘in the round’ on ten huge video screens, a magnificent cultural opening by Ngāti  Whātua Ōrakei and a great floorshow by some incredibly talented artists. Foreign Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta delivered her address by video speaking about tikanga and sustainability.

Haere ra, ka kite anō

The ABAC meeting ended to the sorrowful tune of “Now is the Hour” as we farewelled our guests.   Chair Dominic Ng and ABAC Members were generous with their thanks and appreciation of the distinctive “New Zealand Inc” contribution to the meeting.  Videos with interviews with some of our delegates will be posted to this website in coming weeks. We hope that we impressed not just with New Zealand’s approach to innovation, sustainability and trade but with our “can do attitude” and ability to do the impossible, at short notice, as a storm raged and with a smile!

This post was prepared by Stephen Jacobi and Glen Candy of NZIBF.

NZIBF and ABAC NZ wish to the generous sponsors of the ABAC meeting:  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Auckland Business Chamber, Xero, HSBC New Zealand, Silver Fern Farms, Fonterra, Genesis Energy, Moana NZ, McKinsey & Co, Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Cordis Hotel.


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