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PH biz leaders ‘meet’ Asia-Pacific peers to address COVID-19 crisis

ABAC Philippines has joined its business sector counterparts in APEC in a series of virtual discussions in May up to June to develop specific recommendations to address the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. ABAC, short for APEC Business Advisory Council, is the official private sector body in the APEC process.

As the health emergency swiftly evolved to an economic crisis, ABAC drew a COVID-19 work program. The Council is focusing on four critical issues: (1) strengthening digital connectivity, (2) ensuring supply chain resilience, (3) promoting open markets for goods and services, and (4) supporting MSMEs. The final discussion this June would consolidate the recommendations towards laying the groundwork for economic recovery in the region.

“To a large extent, what we are experiencing at home is also experienced by our neighbors. As COVID-19 threatens long-term economic prospects and the livelihoods of people here and abroad, it is in our best interest to work with our colleagues to mitigate and draft our recovery plans,” ABAC PH member Guillermo Luz said.

Key measures discussed include keeping supply chain and trade in goods and services open. Specific example is the Singapore-New Zealand agreement to remove barriers to trade in essential goods such as medical supplies and devices, and food items. The Council underscored the importance of strong digital infrastructure as more businesses, work and even education and training go online. This must go hand in hand with cybersecurity and data privacy to ensure continuity. Drawing lessons from the COVID-19 experience, ABAC members have discussed how there could be an APEC-wide Guidelines for Emergencies and/or Pandemics.

The Philippines, in particular, has advocated for financial inclusion to support the SMEs, who are among the hardest hit from this crisis.

“A number of innovative solutions in providing financial relief and assistance for SMEs such as in insolvency regimes and digital IDs, can be leveraged effectively when the technologies and systems are in place,” ABAC PH member and co-chair of ABAC’s Finance and Economics Working Group Joanne de Asis, said during the virtual discussion on supporting MSMEs.

She urged the ABAC members to consider: (1) enabling fintech entities to access support from governments, (2) upgrading and digitizing systems for access to finance and asset management, and (3) developing a standardized manual/toolkit for MSMES to capacitate them on how to operate in the new normal.

ABAC PH member Francis Chua likewise bats for more strategic interventions for small businesses. “What our SMEs need is not temporary relief, but support mechanisms to build their capacities, to have access to finance and to tap new markets,” he said.

For newly-appointed ABAC member Sabin Aboitiz, “digital technology and innovation is all the more critical in addressing the new normal. Business, big and small, as well as communities should embrace digital transformation if we are to compete let alone survive in a post-COVID environment.”

With a number of best practices shared at the ABAC platform, ABAC PH Chair Tomas Alcantara emphasizes the importance of bringing the solutions home.

“There are no short-cuts to addressing COVID-19, the public and private sectors should prepare for at least a two-year recovery plan. There are a number of best practices implemented in other economies that the Philippines can definitely learn from and may adopt here. We are working with our government counterparts to share these solutions and determine how the Philippines can further leverage APEC as we plot our path to recovery,” he said.