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Strategic APEC shift to tackle new challenges

Update: November, 03/2017 - 16:00
Dr Alan Bollard
Viet Nam News

The APEC bloc will hold its most important event this year on November 6-11 in the central city of Đà Nẵng. Leaders from 21 member economies will gather for the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week at a time when new growth challenges face the bloc and the world. Dr Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, speaks with Viet Nam News about significant shifts in outlook and strategies.

Việt Nam and the other APEC member economies have traditionally focused on promoting trade and investment growth between one another. They are now intensifying the focus on who benefits from it. What is the significance of this shift?

Previously we understood that increasing trade and economic integration would improve growth rates and living standards generally right across the APEC economies. At the end of last year, we had the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Lima [Peru] and they were focusing much more on who would benefit, or lose, from regional economic integration and increased trade and investment.

Consequently, we have looked at this in much more detail and now many APEC initiatives are focused not just on overall effects but on distributional outcomes.

It is thus that Việt Nam has placed priority on improving inclusive growth. We have considered this in some detail - economic inclusion, financial inclusion and social inclusion. I expect leaders will have comments to make on this in Đà Nẵng.

Apart from inclusive growth, can you talk more broadly about policy priorities initiated by Việt Nam as Chair of APEC 2017? How have these priorities been advanced by individual economies and by APEC as a whole?

Việt Nam put up four areas as policy priorities and began the year by announcing some of their own initiatives and also inviting other economies to come up with their own thoughts and initiatives within these priorities.

All of us want to see continued growth and we do see some challenges this year. But it can’t just be innovative growth, it has to be innovative, inclusive and sustainable on an ongoing basis. 

On regional economic integration, there has been a focus on the changing patterns of bilateral and regional trade agreements, on a series of initiatives to make it easier to move goods and services across the border, on the supply chain, on new developments like environmental issues relating to border trade, and also on the work programme, continuing from last year’s report on a free trade area for Asia-Pacific region.

We will be looking to leaders for their interpretation of where this should go. 

The third priority is micro, small and medium enterprises and how to modernise them in the context of the digital age. A lot of work has been done this year on electronic commerce, Internet economy, data privacy, cyber security, data localisation, data movement across borders and so forth.

We are interested in particular on how these things can help small businesses to benefit from exposure to the regional economic growth drive.

On the fourth priority of food security in the context of climate change, a very successful food security week was held that has produced some initiatives that we can take forward.

There are important changes in regional and international landscapes, including geo-political ones that could pose a challenge for APEC and its agenda. What strategy can APEC adopt to navigate these?

Some changes in structural development, some political changes have been important for us. We have seen continued slow growth since the global financial crisis, a slowing of trade, but growth in emerging middle class and domestically-driven growth prospects.

At the same time, we are also seeing increased automation and concerns about jobs. From a geo-political viewpoint, we have seen some new views on globalisation and some disagreements on some particular initiatives around the table: how APEC navigates these is with its traditional stance, which is voluntary, it’s driven by consensus, it’s not legally binding, it is not about disputes resolution or a stick to drive trade, it’s more about incentives, or the carrot, if you like.

Consequently we are able to continue operating in an environment with some legal international organisations like WTO.

We’re seeing increased pressure, but we continue to feel (in sync with) the traditional role of incubating new ideas and to some extent, bringing different economies’ views together.

Given the growing anti-globalisation and integration trend and different views, what outcomes can we expect from the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in Đà Nẵng?

We have to wait to see what communiques the leaders will sign in Đà Nẵng. We anticipate they all continue to want economic growth, which is slightly improving in APEC at this time. And also want to see trade fulfilling its role as growth driver in the region.

It’s the first chance for the US President to meet with APEC leaders and to explain the administration’s new policy and of course we have seen very recently the Communist Party Congress in the People’s Republic of China, a general election in Japan, and there may be new policies for not just large economies but also small economies with new leader.

What will drive all leaders is that they know they have to be able to show potential benefits for all.

What are the likely long-term impacts that Viet Nam’s chairing of the APEC this year will have, in your opinion?

Việt Nam is chairing the APEC at a complex time. I’m saying this because the regional trade organisation and architecture is changing and still a little unclear with ongoing negotiations among TPP 11, AEC (ASEAN Economic Community), Pacific alliance and NAFTA that have implications for regional economic integration.

Throughout the year, Việt Nam as a host economy has kept the regional economic integration agenda open and kept trade on the table for discussion.

I would say in particular that it has kept regional economic integration alive and opened up discussions on the next new generations, with issues like electronic commerce, focusing in particular on what can bring more businesses into the region.

Finally, it’s significant that an APEC working group will look at where the regional bloc should head, from 2020 onwards. At that time, a number of existing initiatives will be reviewed and it will be a chance for APEC to look at new directions. Việt Nam has helped set up a mechanism for us to do that.

Finally, can you comment on Việt Nam’s preparations for and organisation of APEC 2017?

The year is almost over, but of course we’ve got the big leaders’ week still to come.

We should never underestimate how big and complex APEC can be with its many meetings and its 50 or so particular working groups and several hundreds of initiatives that it has underway.

Việt Nam has kept this going very well in 2017 with over 200 meetings throughout the country by the time the time leaders’ week comes through, with some 20,000 people involved.

And Việt Nam has helped keep the consensus going so that we not only continue to get directions from the top, from economic leaders and ministers, but also responses from technical working groups on a bottom up basis. — VNS



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