To go or woe with the WTO?


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GUEST POST: Business gears up for APEC 2021

by | Jul 31, 2020 | Trade Working Blog


Rachel Taulelei, CEO of Kono and ABAC Chair for 2021 looks at how business can contribute and prepare for APEC 21 which the Government has announced will be held on virtual digital platforms.

Tēnā koutou katoa

In these unpredictable times it is challenging to think ahead.  Certainly no one thought that, come 2021, when Aotearoa New Zealand assumes both the Chair of APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) and ABAC (the APEC Business Advisory Council), we would need to do so virtually.  It is a shame we will not have the opportunity to showcase Aotearoa in the way previously envisaged, but the great news is, we still have an enormous opportunity to help shape the economic direction of the region and the future wellbeing of not just of Asia-Pacific businesses, but of our communities for years to come. That’s a challenge in which I and my fellow ABAC New Zealand members, Toni Moyes and Malcolm Johns are wholly invested. 

What is ABAC ?

ABAC is the voice of business in APEC.  We gather as three leaders from each of APEC’s 21 economies;  we think; we exchange views and we recommend. And we take notice as to whether we have been listened to and when that does not happen, well, we recommend again.  It’s the art of subtle yet persistent pressure and influence to bring about the sort of inclusive, sustainable and prosperous region where all kinds of businesses can thrive, whether large or small.

ABAC has a direct channel of advice to the APEC Economic Leaders  and Ministers.  That advice is provided in an annual report to Leaders but also importantly an end-of-year Dialogue with the Leaders themselves during APEC Leaders’ Week.  That line of reporting direct to the Leaders themselves is pretty unusual but also of immense value.  

It’s our job to ensure that APEC’s work programme and its agenda for sustainable and inclusive economic growth makes sense to business and is grounded in business reality.

What has ABAC done to date ?

Thanks to our predecessors in the role, our scorecard to date is strongThe APEC Business Travel Card which all NZ exporters should carry was an ABAC idea.  As was the overarching concept for trade liberalisation in the region, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which ABAC first proposed in 2004!  Last year ABAC framed up a set of principles for avoiding non tariff barriers, which in large part was adopted by APEC Ministers.  

It’s no surprise that this year our work programme has been heavily disrupted due to Covid.  But our stream of advice has not stopped.  In April at the request of the Malaysian Chair, ABAC NZ was instrumental in preparing initial advice to APEC about how to front the immediate crisis.  That was followed up by a series of webinars focused on fleshing out our initial recommendations in greater detail in the areas of trade, supply chains, digital, assistance for small business and financial systems. 

second report has now been submitted to Ministers Responsible for Trade who met on 25 July.  That report focuses both on steps that need to be reinforced in the short term and actions that will need to be taken over the medium to longer term to stimulate the economic recovery. A companion statement of support for the World Trade Organisation in these challenging times, drafted by ABAC NZ, was also submitted to Ministers. 

A third phase to the 2020 work programme, picking up on elements not directly related to the pandemic, is now underway.

Throughout this time, things important to ABAC NZ have been: 

  • how to avoid protectionism and keep open markets for essential medical and food supplies; 
  • how to minimise supply chain disruption and keep trade flowing and support the WTO; 
  • how best, drawing on our own experience, to provide help to small and medium sized enterprises which meets their specific circumstances; 
  • how to make sure that digital methods of communication and supply are used to maximum effect; 
  • how to prevent the health crisis leading to a food security crisis; 
  • how to keep the urgent need to address climate change at the forefront of our thinking in this new era; and 
  • how to deliver a vision for the future of APEC that is relevant to the new and uncertain circumstances we find ourselves in.

Roll on 2021

This year it’s Malaysia’s turn and they are pursuing an ambitious work programme under the theme of “Integration, Innovation, Inclusion”.  Next year the task of chairing ABAC and leading the development of recommendations to Leaders and Ministers will fall to us.  

In terms of our own strategic priorities in 2021, we will want to wait until we see the shape of the Government’s priorities before we finalise our own thematic approach. Our thinking at this stage is that we will want to place priority on issues to do with “People, Place and Prosperity.  

Or as I like to think of it:

“Tāngata, Taiao, me te Taurikura”

Malcolm, Toni and I, with the help of our advisers Stephen Jacobi and Stephanie Honey at NZIBF, are taking a portfolio approach to developing our work plan,  reflecting our particular strengths and interests. As well as overall leadership, I have taken on trade, Māori engagement and food.  Malcolm is leading the charge on climate, energy and ABAC’s input into APEC’s future vision. Toni will develop ideas on digital, women’s empowerment and financial issues. All of us will have a regard to how to make our recommendations relevant to SMEs which is the business space most of us operate in.

And so, ABAC NZ needs you…

Taking up the challenge of crafting a meaningful agenda, turning this into practical recommendations and engaging with our ABAC colleagues virtually is no small undertaking.  We wish to engage with you, our own business community, to make sure that what we are advocating at the regional level makes sense locally.  One area my colleagues and I are keen to advance is engagement with Māori business leaders to ensure that we present as well rounded a picture of our own key business concerns as we can, and to reflect more broadly the need to empower indigenous communities around the region.

This mahi will unfold over the coming months and we have already made a start.  We’re working with the Government through the APEC 21 Business Leadership Group which has now met twice .  One thing I can tell you from the first meeting I attended in Sydney in February:  New Zealand is extremely highly regarded in ABAC, due to the hard work of former Members and our executive team, and there is a lot of anticipation about our year – both in terms of the way we ourselves do business and the substance of what we will be recommending to APEC Leaders. 

So, please – I invite you to share your views with us (to and look out for opportunities to engage through your local business association or sector group – we appreciate your contributions and participation.

Naku te rourou 

Nau te rourou 

Ka ora ai te iwi

With my food basket, and your food basket, the people will live.


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