Remarks by ABAC Chair Rachel Taulelei to APEC Senior Officials, 11/12 March 2021

by | Mar 12, 2021 | Trade In The News




E ngā mana, e ngā reo, rau rangatira mā, tena koutou katoa.

It’s a pleasure to join with you at your plenary meeting after the very successful ABAC-SOM Dialogue which we held this week.

My thanks to Vangelis Vitalis for this invitation and to you all for your close interest in ABAC’s work.

Since our time is limited, allow me to highlight a number of key issues before us this year.

I’d like to mention the pandemic, the Vision, trade architecture, climate change and inclusion.

These are all key concerns for ABAC as we pursue our theme this year of “People, Place and Prosperity/ Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura” .

The pandemic

Covid 19 remains the most pressing, top of mind issue.

While growing vaccination rates give us some renewed hope, many communities and businesses around the region continue to suffer.

ABAC will continue to play close attention this year to finding ways to mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic on MSMEs in particular, to preparing for the recovery and to helping develop a safe and seamless framework for border reopening .

We are very concerned about the spread of vaccine nationalism and urge you to lead an APEC initiative in the WTO to eliminate tariffs, non-tariff barriers and export restrictions on essential medical supplies and associated services.

The Vision

We welcome APEC’s Vision to 2040 but all businesses know that a vision without a plan is a passing thought.

The Implementation Plan is of key interest to ABAC: we want it to lay out specific, concrete deliverables for action across all the pillars of the vision and to include items for early harvest as well as dates for review and refresh.

Twenty years is a long time – too long to wait for the key elements of the Vision to be achieved: action needs to start even this year, banking progress where we can.

Trade architecture

We are glad the Vision includes references to strengthening the WTO and making progress towards FTAAP.

With a new Director-General in Geneva and a renewed willingness on the part of major economies to engage, there is no better time to return the WTO to its pre-eminent position as a forum for liberalising trade and enforcing effective trade rules.

You can expect from ABAC this year another forthright declaration of support for the WTO and a renewed interest in engaging with the APEC Caucus in Geneva particularly in the lead up to MC12.

FTAAP should be at the heart of the APEC Vision; it takes on even greater importance in the post-Covid world.

Our conception of FTAAP has had to evolve since we first articulated the concept way back in 2004: today we understand FTAAP as more of a journey than a destination. 

But what better way to mark the ultimate conclusion of the Asia Pacific Community than to declare that FTAAP has become a reality through a mix of convergence among the negotiating pathways and a score of other unilateral and multilateral actions on the part of APEC Members.

But then again, we simply can’t wait another twenty years : it simply must be achieved sooner.

In the meantime, we need to redouble our efforts to finalise the few outstanding areas of unfinished business from the Bogor Goals including in relation to agriculture, services and investment as well as continuing to find ways to make supply chains work faster and better.

Climate Change

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern calls climate change the defining issue of this generation and many of our businesses agree with her.

I know some will point to the difficulties on attaining consensus on climate change in a diverse forum such as APEC, but I ask you, if not us, then who?

ABAC believes we need to raise the level of urgency and this year we will be spending time developing some principles for the way businesses might react to the challenge of addressing climate change as well as what is needed to facilitate trade and investment in renewable energy and associated services and technologies.

Prime Minister Ardern has another favourite saying – he waka eke noa – we are all in the boat together – nowhere is this more true than in respect of climate change.


Lastly, I come to inclusion which, for me, as Maori woman leading a medium-sized business is a matter of the heart.

APEC has done some good work over the years on MSMEs but this needs sharpening in the light of Covid.

We could usefully extend our ambition in respect of women, especially when we come review the La Serena Roadmap.

Thus far the needs and aspirations of the region’s 270 million indigenous people, many of whom also live in rural areas,  have hardly been touched and it is a priority of ours to address this.

Digitisation has a role to play in respect of these communities and more broadly in APEC and will be a key focus for us this year, which started with the ABAC Digital Forum led by our Canadian colleagues this week.

Colleagues, these are perilous and worrying times and they demand that this organisation and each one of us lift our sights and lift our game.

This is not a time for business as usual – it is business as unusual.

The Māori people have a saying – “ka pū te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi”.

The old net has been put away; a new net has gone fishing.

Now is the time to throw that new net very wide indeed !


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