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Day 2: Public-Private Dialogue on Services 2021 Highlights

Last October 12-13, the Asia Pacific Services Coalition (APSC) and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) convened business leaders, industry representatives, regional experts, and officials from international organizations to the Public-Private Dialogue on Services. With the theme, “Driving Services for an Inclusive and Resilient Economic Recovery,” the forum highlighted the services sector’s critical role in achieving resilient, inclusive, and sustainable economic recovery in a post-pandemic economy. 

Bernard Hoekman, Professor of the European University Institute, in his opening remarks on the second day of the virtual forum said “although the services sector was hit the hardest by the pandemic, it was also the reason why we’ve managed to overcome the crisis.” He also underscored the lessons that economies can draw from the pandemic, which involves keeping markets open, having a predictable policy environment, fostering deeper engagement in international cooperation in services policies, and supporting the ability for services and data to flow freely across borders. 

Bill Luz, Member of ABAC Philippines said that while the services sector has been affected by a set of negative supply and demand shocks, it has also seen “some gains and positive effects because of digital transformation, which has provided leapfrogging opportunities for businesses.” Mr. Luz, who also represents the Philippine Services Coalition stressed that despite the positive impact of digitalization, economies must “operate within a set of rules and these rules have also been increasingly fragmented and incoherent, which can become a disadvantage to smaller companies.”  

Session 3: Accelerating digital adaptation in the services sector


Digital experts weighed in on the importance of creating a policy framework that will effectively support and enable digital trade among economies. Encouraging businesses and governments to engage in e-commerce should be complemented by implementing a regulatory environment that would allow businesses and governments to engage in trade. 

George Lever, Director at the Digital Economy Center of the Santiago Chamber of Commerce presented a global snapshot of the unprecedented growth seen during the pandemic in the ‘digital population’ and the ‘digitalized industries’  such as e-commerce, online education, video and music streaming apps, food delivery apps, among others. Louis Tay Chee Siong, COO of PLYTEC Group, also showed how the construction industry digitalized by adopting an IoT network architecture consisting of both information and operational technology.

Barbara Navarro, Director for Government and Public Policy of Google in JAPAC urged economies to adopt cloud computing services with a supportive policy environment since it would lay the foundation of the region’s future digital services. For economies to effectively manage digital trade and its regulatory environment, Deborah Elms, Executive Director of the Asian Trade Centre, encouraged governments and regulators to take immediate action in creating a supportive policy framework with provisions of paperless trade commitments, digital signatures, e-payments, data security and privacy.  

The third session, moderated by Jane Drake Brockman of the Australian Services Roundtable, highlighted the following recommendations on digital adaptation: 

  • Use a cloud ‘first principle approach’ to allow greater acceleration of its adoption through a supportive policy environment.
  • Invest and adopt digital technology and tools to transform work processes with an express delivery partner 
  • Standardize built asset information management strategically based on ISO and other international standards. 
  • Lead and drive other value chain players to adopt, link, and collaborate digitally. 
  • Create more consistent rules and regulations in digital trade agreements.

Session 4: Boosting services competitiveness post-pandemic 

APEC Senior Officials and business leaders zeroed in on how services competitiveness can be enhanced to facilitate post-pandemic recovery. With the current pace and progress of the APEC Services Competitiveness Roadmap implementation, the public and private sector would need new approaches and strategies since the pandemic further redefined the nature of work and revolutionized digital trends. 

John Drummond, Head of Trade in Services Division of the OECD Secretariat outlined three recommendations on how services trade can be boosted in the region: (1) expand APEC and work on measuring regulatory environment for services, (2) adopt an economy-wide approach to service trade policymaking in the WTO Joint Statement Initiative’s implementation (JSI), and (3) think of a whole-of-government approach domestically to boost own economy’s services competitiveness.

APEC 2021 SOM Chair Vangelis Vitalis encouraged all 21 member economies to lean against protectionist impulses if APEC wants to respond to the crisis effectively. Prewprae Chumrum, Director of the Department of Trade Negotiations at the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand highlighted that while economies consider ICT development, skills, and infrastructure in their national strategies, it is imperative to have domestic regulations in one’s economy. Ho Meng Kit, Chair of ABAC’s Regional Economic Integration Working Group,  also emphasized that economies must focus more on regulatory policies and behind border improvements. He also pointed out that digital and e-commerce services, rebuilding the tourism sector, and preserving health services must be strengthened and pursued even post-pandemic in preparation for the next crisis. 

The fourth session, also moderated by Jane Drake Brockman of the Australian Services Roundtable, highlighted the following recommendations on services competitiveness roadmap and beyond: 

  • Focus more on creating regulatory policies and practices to improve services competitiveness in one’s economy and in the region. 
  • Facilitate cross-border online delivery of a wider range of digitally-enabled services to promote e-commerce for both goods and services, such as ICT, transport, logistics, e-payments, and computer services. 
  • Rebuild tourism in the region through concerted regional cooperation and coordinated safe reopening of borders. 
  • Support innovation in the provision of regional health services and accelerate access to safe and effective telehealth and e-health options.
  • Increase public-private collaboration to facilitate trade in environment-related services, and have an export promotion event for creative services. 
  • Carry out a dedicated two-year peer-review process to monitor the progress and final review of the dimensions of the services of each economy’s Individual Action Plan (IAP). 

Jaime Coghi Arias, Coordinator for WTO JSI on Services Domestic Regulation expounded further by explaining that greater regulatory coherence is critical to the competitiveness of the services sector since it “promotes transparency, legal certainty and predictability, regulatory quality and qualification.” This initiative would be particularly important given the number of issues that businesses, especially the smaller enterprises, face in meeting licensing and qualification requirements and procedures. Jason Lee, Director for International Policy and Engagement of the Singapore Business Federation recognized its importance as he pointed out Singapore has recently announced participation in the WTO JSI. 

The WTO Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulation is a collective approach to adopt domestic regulatory policies that could reduce services trade costs, manage the free flow of goods and services, and promote transparency amongst businesses and government transactions. Tomochika Uyama, Special Adviser to WTO Director-General noted in his keynote speech the potential that services domestic regulation has in “boosting the participation of economies in services trade, making global value chains resilient, and raising the level of entrepreneurship—as a result, fosters the competitiveness of services markets.

The services sector plays an essential role in facilitating trade and investments, and builds an inclusive and resilient post-pandemic economy. However, without a supportive and conducive policy environment that consists of proper rules and regulations, we will not be able to fully take advantage and unleash the potential that services can do for our member-economies and APEC as a whole. 

“We need to be thinking of building back better to be resilient, but we also need to be thinking at the same time of building back broader for inclusion.” Mr. Luz concluded. 

This virtual forum is presented to you by ABAC Philippines and Globe Telecom, in partnership with the Trade & Investment in Services Associates (TIISA) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

To watch the full webinar of Day 2: https://bit.ly/PPDonServices-FullWebinarDay2

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