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ABAC PH: It’s all about our people

ABAC Philippines’ Sabin Aboitiz presented recommendations on further strengthening services trade and investment post-pandemic at the Regional Economic Integration Working Group (REIWG) meeting during the ABAC IV Meeting held last 13-16 November in Bangkok, Thailand.

Aboitiz underscored the need to ensure that workers, entrepreneurs and small business are capable of adapting to rapid changes in the business environment with the accelerated adoption of digital tools and online channels. “To foster economic recovery and boost service competitiveness, APEC economies will need skilled laborers who are future-ready, innovative, and fully capable of navigating new products and processes that will help the sector capture opportunities in new markets,” said Aboitiz Group President and CEO.

As co-chair of ABAC REIWG, Aboitiz led in organizing the public-private dialogue titled “Sharpening Your Edge: Skills & Services for the 21st Century” last July 12, which served as reference to ABAC’s letter to the APEC Group on Services (GOS), and eventually as inputs to the Report to APEC Leaders. Aside from the recommendations regarding facilitating cross-border online delivery of a wider range of digitally-enabled services, there was strong emphasis on harnessing an innovative and future-ready workforce.

The PPD underscored the need for continuing public-private engagement towards: (1) upskilling people in the services sector with a particular focus on developing digital, entrepreneurial, and innovative capabilities, as well as lifelong learning; and (2) developing policies to support, sustain, and institutionalize the emerging innovation and disruption ecosystem within the public and private sector.

“People are literally the heart and soul of our economies, and human resources have always been at the core of the services sector, said Aboitiz. “We must therefore never cease to harness the power and potential of human capital, the development of skills, and the constant movement of people in order to enable our region’s speedy recovery from the unprecedented challenges we’ve encountered, and to move on toward robust growth for all our economies.”

Strong emphasis on digital innovation and new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, data science, and cloud computing are necessary towards achieving this growth. This is an important strategy for inclusion and resilience in services as it supports key sectors such as tourism, banking and finance, IT-BPM, and others. 

The 2021 midterm review of the APEC Services Competitiveness Roadmap (ASCR) shows we are behind in meeting the 2025 targets, although there is notable progress being made and bright spots to pursue. The pandemic has resulted in serious setbacks in analog services sectors such as travel; but it has also accelerated the move to a virtual environment and a digital services economy. 

To fully benefit from the digitization of services and minimize the risk of undercutting our region’s competitiveness around the world, there is a need to level the international playing field or promote interoperability among different regulatory mechanisms on new technologies like AI; as well as the free-flow of data with respect to data privacy, security, and consumer protection.

Aboitiz reiterated the key recommendations as outlined in this year’s ABAC Report to APEC Leaders:

  1. Urge economies already fully covered in the OECD Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI) to participate in the Pilot APEC Index this year, with the objective target of full participation at the earliest possible time and in an appropriate manner.
  2. Focus on developing entrepreneurial innovation and startup ecosystems to facilitate the uptake by MSMEs of digital technologies, as part of integrating MSME digitalization and services innovation across value chains, especially in the food and agriculture sectors, which impact food security directly.
  3. Facilitate cross-border delivery of digitally enabled and digitally delivered services, and address the barriers to the digital ecosystem including privacy rules, data localization, and cybersecurity.
  4. Ease the barriers to the movement of people in order to maximize opportunities for services firms to acquire skilled workers and allow the exchange of talents that could improve our transitions to more sustainable sources for energy security, clear pathways to address climate change, and uplift overall global market competitiveness.

In addition, Aboitiz called for continuing to create and support an enabling environment through digitalization, with a strong emphasis on upgrading talent skill sets, and a renewed focus on STEM as part of education for young learners. “We must ensure that our future workforce is prepared to meet the demanding requirements of an increasingly digital services economy.”

ABAC 2022, ABAC PH, Services Trade and Investment