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Day 1: Public-Private Dialogue on Services 2021 Highlights

The Asia-Pacific Services Coalition (APSC) and APEC Business Advisory Council organized a Public-Private Dialogue on Services under the theme, “Driving Services for an Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery last October 12-13. 

During the two-day conference, key themes emerged on how services competitiveness can be enhanced post-pandemic and beyond, which contributes to the midterm review of the APEC Services Competitiveness Roadmap. While the forum centered on the importance of the services sector in building back better for the region, the dialogue also highlighted the COVID-19 response of businesses, digital transformation of services, and domestic regulatory practices and policies that must be implemented to make economic recovery inclusive and beneficial for all. 

APEC Senior Official of the Philippines Ambassador Lourdes Yparraguirre shared that despite services being the fastest growing sector of international trade, its “exponential growth has been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and has ensued economic crisis especially in developing economies.” The APEC Senior Official further added that “the silver lining is that the crisis has forced us to look to services as a critical driver to sustaining economic activity amid the challenges. Because of their impact on economy-wide productivity and trade, the services sector will be critical to economic recovery and development strategies in a post-pandemic environment.”  

In his welcoming remarks, ABAC Chair of the Philippines, Tomas Alcantara, mentioned how the COVID-19 pandemic redefined the future-of-work, “The pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of businesses, including services globally. We have seen digitalization of services from telework and fintech to virtual restaurants and digital marketplaces, which have kept economies and the flow of goods and services running amid COVID-19-induced lockdowns.” Chief Economist Fukunari Kimura of ERIA and KEIO University stated that since many services became digitally-enabled, it needs to have a modernized policy framework.

Tom Harley, ABAC Services Taskforce’s Convenor, echoes this by saying, “Businesses and services will not be able to survive without regulatory operation consensus, clear non-discriminatory domestic regulatory structures and competition policy frameworks, the elimination of barriers, and targeting skills development of people.”

Session 1: Building resilient supply chains for essential services 

Business executives from the logistics and transport sector emphasized the need for economies to recognize the ‘human aspect’ of these services since these workers are the backbone in ensuring cross-border movement. 

Doris-Magsaysay Ho, President and CEO of A. Magsaysay Inc., shared how quarantine periods and domestic lockdowns have caused hundreds of seafarers stranded, spike in freight charges, port congestion, and lessened capacity for ships to carry goods. Similarly, Fatimah Alsagoff, Director of Public Affairs for UPS in APAC, also pointed out a significant decline in its global air cargo capacity dropping to 80% in 2020 when countries started imposing nationwide lockdowns. Leonora Lim, Vice President of DHL’s Life Sciences and Healthcare in APAC added, “Logistics is a people business. We have to take care of people who work in this sector. Once we get this right, the trade will continue to flow as long as logistics services are the engine behind it.” 

The first session, moderated by Sherry Stephenson of PECC, highlighted the following recommendations on essential services:

  • Recognize transportation and logistics as essential services.
  • Remove restrictions hampering the movement of transport workers to facilitate customs clearance of goods and final mile-pickup and delivery.
  • Create a “Green Lane” or special lanes for transport workers to ensure their safe passage.
  • Develop common protocols and a policy framework on tracing and testing, and digital vaccination certificates to ensure immediate and safe movement of workers. 

Session 2: Broadening the reach of recovery through digitalization

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in businesses, and services globally. The second session highlighted the role that digital services play in achieving inclusive growth – enabling enterprises, governments, and economies to change their business models in order to provide opportunities and share the benefits, especially for MSMEs, women, the youth and vulnerable communities.

Undersecretary Rafaelita Aldaba of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) of the Philippines presented the government’s current inclusive innovation industrial strategy which focuses on embracing new technologies “to create more efficient and scalable industries and leapfrog inclusive, resilient, and sustainable industrial development, and ensure that no MSME or enterprise gets left behind.” Chief Economist Rolando Avendano from ADB shared the importance of leveraging digital skills. He also added that governments must tie and integrate investment policies with digital policies since digital services firms are an important driver of economic growth. 

Maes Alconcel, the National Project Coordinator of EU Arise Plus Philippines, also underscored how digital services enable connectivity, provide cost-effective solutions, enhance economic resilience, and create new opportunities for MSMEs, particularly start-ups, women, and youth-led firms. Stephanie Honey, Director of Honey Consulting Ltd., emphasized the need for an enabling digital environment for digital services, liberalization of these services sectors, and targeted skills and capacity building, networking, information, and structural reforms for gender equality. Frederic Levy, Chief Operating Officer of GCash, explained how they created a platform that was able to provide financial access for all during the pandemic. “The only way for us to build something new is if we do it together. So, we need to move from a ‘simple financial inclusion for ‘all’ to ‘altogether’ building this kind of financial inclusion.”

The second session, moderated by Louisa Su of TWCSI, highlighted the following recommendations on services for inclusion: 

  • Improve connectivity and upgrade ICT infrastructure to provide more access to opportunities in the digital economy.
  • Protect data without impeding the potential growth of enterprises arising from data utilization.
  • Incentivize and formulate frameworks for skills upgrading of workers.
  • Capacitate MSMEs for the digital economy with adequate support infrastructure like R&D facilities, technical expertise, mentorship, digital technologies, and financing. 
  • Strengthen global value chains through sound international policies on standards and frameworks on trade facilitation and data flows. 
  • Create an enabling environment for digital services with reduced barriers and increased interoperability. 

Secretary Ramon Lopez of DTI said “the Roadmap’s midterm review has provided some insightful ideas on how APEC can make the benefits of the implementation more sustainable and far-reaching. In the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, there are new areas that have emerged which may require our immediate attention and action.” The Philippine Trade Minister then further encouraged APEC economies to “provide a transparent and predictable regulatory environment for services firms to engage in the international market.” 

To achieve this, ABAC Philippines’ Tomas Alcantara, emphasized the need for APEC and society to collaborate collectively, “Leveraging APEC platform and engaging in international fora, such as the discussion on the WTO services domestic regulation, and the services-related provisions in bilateral and regional agreements will help maximize the gains of developing economies like the Philippines.”

The virtual forum is presented by ABAC Philippines, Philippine Services Coalition and Globe Telecom, in partnership with the Trade & Investment in Services Associates (TIISA) at the University of Adelaide, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Watch the full webinar of Day 1: https://bit.ly/PPDonServices-FullWebinarDay1

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