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Asia-Pacific business leaders meet to discuss priorities and future of APEC

Asia-Pacific business leaders gathered for the first APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) meeting in Sydney last February 12-15 to discuss its work plan for 2020 and the future of APEC for the next 10 years.

The meeting touched on reforms urgently needed by the World Trade Organization and achieving sustainable growth with inclusive participation from developing economies and marginalized groups.

ABAC will work more closely with its government counterparts in APEC this year to establish a robust digital economy and bridge the “digital divide”. This includes a holistic human capital development anchored on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education.

“Business has an important role to play in shaping the path here. As businesspeople, we are adept at simplifying complex issues and finding innovative solutions,” ABAC Malaysia Member Dato Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood. Malaysia serves as the Chair of ABAC and APEC for 2020.

Representing the Philippine team in Sydney, ABAC member Guillermo Luz highlighted the crucial role of APEC in light of recent developments.

“With uncertainties from economic inequality and threats from climate change, it has become more important to work more closely with our neighbors. This is where our participation in APEC can and must be leveraged,” he said.

Mr. Luz presented during the Sydney meeting updates on Philippine catastrophe bonds. In November last year, the Philippines issued its first catastrophe bonds with the World Bank. The deal insures the Philippines against losses of up to US$225 million due to natural disasters –US$150 million for tropical cyclones and US$75 million for losses from earthquakes.

ABAC Philippines has championed this issue since last year and is now encouraging other ABAC economies to help in developing a robust catastrophe bond market for the disaster-prone region.

Mr. Luz also noted the e-commerce initiative MondeB2B, which links exporters and importers from APEC in one online marketplace and enables them to securely conduct business transactions. He noted its potential benefit to Philippine SMEs, who are looking to market their products beyond the border. This year, ABAC Philippines will be seeking private sector support to help more local SMEs go digital and global.

According to Mr. Luz, efforts such as the MondeB2B advance the Philippines’ push for inclusive growth. “99.5% of Philippines businesses are MSMEs, covering more than 60% of total employment. Empowering them through digital innovation will drive economic growth and lead to greater inclusion,” he said.

In 1994, APEC targeted a free and open trade and investment Asia-Pacific by 2020 as outlined in the “Bogor Goals”. The regional body is now assessing its achievements over the past 25 years as it charts its new post-2020 vision, taking into account the current geopolitical context, disruptions brought by digital technologies, and the growing threat posed by climate change.

Drawing from its letter to APEC officials last year, ABAC has again underscored in this meeting that the future Asia-Pacific community must be “seamless, dynamic, resilient, inclusive and sustainable”, with a free trade area as its foundation and with “people at its heart”.

With the Philippines as host of the next ABAC meeting, Mr. Luz also shared updates on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the Philippines. He enumerated the measures taken by the government to contain the virus, such as enhanced laboratory testing capacity, heightened surveillance and contact tracing, quarantine protocols, and travel restrictions. COVID-19 is beginning to have a major impact on the global economy and ABAC Philippines is closely monitoring it.