Aiming to connect businesses digitally

Danial Norjidi

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC) recently held its first meeting of 2020 in Sydney, Australia, bringing together business leaders from around the Asia-Pacific.

Among those to attend the meeting, held from February 12-15, were members of ABAC Brunei – Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Baiduri Bank Pengiran Azaleen bin Pengiran Dato Haji Mustapha.

Speaking to the Bulletin on the meeting, Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi said, “ABAC members met against the challenging backdrop of the COVID-19 concerns, and members supporting the desire and importance to maintain the role as the voice of business to leaders.

“Members supported ABAC Malaysia’s theme of integration, innovation and inclusion,” she said.

Speaking on discussions on the sultanate, she said, “We continue to draw the lessons relevant to human capacity development and networking; market access and improving global value chain accessibility and capability; impact investment and principles of ESG for sustainability of economic growth.”

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC) recently held its first meeting of 2020 in Sydney, Australia
Legislative Council member Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi binti Abdul Haadii in a group photo. PHOTO: ABAC

Pengiran Azaleen said, “Brunei is in a unique position among the economies due to its location, economic stability and more importantly, its demographics where the population’s average age is about 31 years and a close split between male and female. Thus embracing a digital economy and empowering women comes naturally.”

On Brunei’s perspective and role in achieving integration and inclusion in the region in the age of disruption, Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi said, “As we continue diversifying our economy, the importance of digitalisation of our public and private sectors is crucial not just for efficiency but purely from the driver of enabling eco-systems for sustainable growth.”

Pengiran Azaleen added, “The goal is connecting businesses in the region digitally and businesses including Brunei needs to be ready to embrace all that surrounds digital advancements including improvement of cyber security and embracing artificial intelligence (AI).”

Yang Berhormat Nik Hafimi said, “We continue our engagement across all levels locally to get their feedback on ABAC and APEC. We will soon engage young entrepreneurs to get their insights on their own experiences.”

“The next ABAC meeting is less than five weeks so we continue our work,” she added.

The recent ABAC meeting was also touched on in a press release, which noted that the business leaders in attendance discussed the year ahead, including engaging with APEC senior officials on how best to advance shared goals around integration, innovation and inclusion in the region.

ABAC Chairperson Dato Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood said, “We are seeing disruption and volatility in the geopolitical situation, in trade and markets, in economic inequality, in the digital economy and even in our physical environment.”

“One thing is clear: to overcome these challenges, we need more regional cooperation, not less. This was our key message to senior officials in our annual dialogue this week,” Dato Rohana added.

The chairperson said that ABAC would look to find durable solutions to those issues as part of the post-2020 vision for the region, which is due to be finalised by APEC this year. ABAC seeks a seamless, dynamic, resilient, inclusive and sustainable Asia-Pacific economic community, underpinned by a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, and with people at its heart.

ABAC members also reiterated their strong support for the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“The mid-year WTO Ministerial Conference represents a crucial opportunity to make progress on reforming WTO rules and resolving the impasse on dispute settlement. As we see our small businesses and developing economies exporting more, this is critical. This will mean that the multilateral rules-based system remains relevant to and effective for all in our modern economies,” said Dato Rohana.

The chairperson also emphasised the importance of business leadership to mitigate climate change impacts and spearhead the transition to a low-emissions economy.

“Business has an important role to play in helping shape the path ahead here. As businesspeople, we are adept at simplifying complex issues and finding innovative solutions. We have a real contribution to make here.”

On the digital economy, the chair said that ABAC remained convinced that fostering an innovation-friendly, resilient and cyber-secure digital ecosystem was the best way to help unlock growth for underserved groups including women, indigenous communities and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the region.

“As we face the emergence of new technologies such as AI, we need to equip APEC economies to create an environment for successful development and ethical uptake of AI,” added Dato Rohana.

Underpinning these efforts was a need for ongoing structural reform to increase the resilience of all APEC economies.

“In Sydney we set out an ambitious forward agenda and work programme which will lead us through the year to the APEC Summit in Kuala Lumpur in November, where we will present our advice directly to APEC Economic Leaders,” concluded the ABAC Chairperson.

The ABAC was created by APEC leaders in 1995 to be the primary voice of business in APEC, with each economy having three members. The ABAC meets four times a year in preparation for the presentation of their recommendations to the leaders.