Call for collaboration amid virus outbreak

Danial Norjidi

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC) has underlined the importance of collaboration across the region to combat COVID-19.

In a press statement, ABAC shared that business leaders from the Asia-Pacific region have called for APEC leadership and cooperation to combat the grave challenges, posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, to health and economies.

“Saving lives is obviously what matters most right now. That demands collaboration across the region on the knowledge and the tools we need to combat the health impacts and mitigate the most severe economic consequences in the short term,” said ABAC Chairwoman Dato Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood. “We also need to lay the groundwork for rapid economic recovery as the worst of the storm begins to subside.”

Dato Rohana said that ABAC has written to APEC Trade and Foreign Ministers to urge them to lead the way in removing barriers to trade in the essential tools needed to fight the pandemic, including medical equipment, medicines and basic protective items such as soap, disinfectant and personal protective equipment.

“Complementing this effort, economies should facilitate trade in these critical supplies by simplifying and expediting border procedures, and should relax the rules to allow essential workers, including medical professionals to move across borders to serve the areas of greatest need.”

“Underpinning all of this, APEC economies should of course share their experiences in acting to contain the pandemic, exchange data and research, and collaborate on public health measures,” added Dato Rohana.

She cautioned that actions needed to go beyond addressing health. “This is rapidly becoming a financial and economic crisis too. The impacts on workers, businesses and supply chains are already severe,” she said. “We are especially concerned about small businesses, the self-employed and those in the informal economy, who are ill-equipped to withstand these impacts.”

She added, “We call on ministers to share ideas and collaborate on approaches to address the rapid rise in unemployment, bankruptcies and other business challenges around liquidity, credit and tax payments.”

Dato Rohana said that, looking to the longer term, any eventual recovery would take more time if the engines of trade and investment could not be restarted quickly.

“We urge APEC economies to announce a standstill on all new trade-restrictive measures for the rest of this year and to agree concrete actions to reduce protectionism going forward.

“Our most vulnerable communities need to be able to access food and other essential household products. Our businesses need to have the confidence to re-invest and rebuild our economies. Protectionism of any sort impedes the road to recovery,” the ABAC Chair added.

Underpinning all these efforts, ABAC has called on APEC economies to make the fullest possible use of digital technologies and connectivity, to collaborate effectively across economies and enable a level of economic activity to continue.

“Access to resilient digital infrastructure such as broadband, including in emerging economies, is essential. So is minimising barriers to cross border data flows,” Dato Rohana said, adding that “there is no precedent for the global shut down we are now experiencing and no guidebook to assist us as we recover, so it is critical that APEC economies work collaboratively to address the immediate challenges and to plan for reopening of our borders as soon as possible.”

APEC is a regional economic forum established in 1989 that aims to create greater prosperity for the people of the region by promoting balanced, inclusive, sustainable, innovative and secure growth and by accelerating regional economic integration. It has 21 members, including Brunei Darussalam.

ABAC was created by APEC leaders in 1995 to be the primary voice of business in APEC, with each economy having three members.

Brunei Darussalam’s Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii, who is a member of ABAC Brunei, spoke to the Bulletin recently.

She shared the ABAC Brunei’s perspective: “ABAC has always been about learning, sharing and collaborating to benefit the Asia Pacific community. This message is more important now than it has ever been as each economy deals with COVID-19 and the call to APEC is that it should stay its course to increasing open collaboration.”

She said, “In Brunei, we have seen the ‘Brunei Spirit’ of coming together energised. Fiscal, monetary and human capacity initiatives have been laid out clearly by the government of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam to support the private sector.”

“At the same time,” she said, “human capacity and life-long learning programmes have been enhanced to ensure sustainability and readiness of the working population once the immediate crisis has passed.

“What is more important is that the whole nation is mobilised towards preparedness and once the pandemic has turned a corner and the connectivity is reopened all Bruneians can come out stronger, more dynamic and resilient.”

She added that regionally, “we commend the recent agreement amongst several APEC economies, including Brunei, for committing to maintaining open and connected supply chains.

“COVID-19 has reinforced our national commitment towards a digital future and Smart Nation capability. It has brought more urgency for enabling all sectors of our nation – public, private and civil society – on the importance of innovation to enable inclusion”.