Charting future of the region

Danial Norjidi

Following the virtual 27th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting on November 20 in hosted by Malaysia, leaders of the 21 APEC member economies issued the Kuala Lumpur Declaration and launched a new vision.

The meeting saw leaders convening for the first time since the last meeting in Papua New Guinea in 2018. During the virtual meeting, leaders agreed to the joint declaration under the 2020 APEC Malaysia theme of ‘Optimising Human Potential towards a Resilient Future of Shared Prosperity. Pivot. Prioritise. Progress’.

A press statement noted that, recognising the unprecedented challenges the region’s economies face amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, APEC’s leaders pledged to work together to support the following priorities: combatting and mitigating the impacts of COVID-19; improving the narrative of trade and investment; inclusive economic participation through digital economy and technology; driving innovative and inclusive sustainability; and strengthening stakeholder engagement.

Leaders also launched the new APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 that will chart the future of the region, envisioning an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040, for the prosperity of all of the people and future generations. It was shared that the vision will be achieved by pursuing the three economic drivers.

The first one is ‘Trade and Investment’, which aims “to ensure that the Asia-Pacific remains the world’s most dynamic and interconnected regional economy”.

The leaders also vowed “to continue to work together to deliver, a free, open, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment.

“We reaffirm our support for agreed upon rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in delivering a well-functioning multilateral trading system and promoting the stability and predictability of international trade flows.

“We will further advance the Bogor Goals and economic integration in the region in a manner that is market-driven, including through the work on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) agenda which contributes to high standard and comprehensive regional undertakings. We will promote seamless connectivity, resilient supply chains and responsible business conduct”.

The second is ‘Innovation and Digitalisation’, for which it was stated that “to empower our people and businesses to grow in an interconnected global economy, we will foster an enabling environment that is market-driven and supported by digital economy and innovation.

“We will pursue structural reforms and sound economic policies to promote innovation as well as improve productivity and dynamism. We will strengthen digital infrastructure, accelerate digital transformation, narrow the digital divide, as well as cooperate on facilitating the flow of data and strengthening consumer and business trust in digital transactions”.

The third is ‘Strong, Balanced, Secure, Sustainable and Inclusive Growth’, which is set “to ensure that the Asia-Pacific region is resilient to shocks, crises, pandemics and other emergencies. We will foster quality growth that brings palpable benefits and greater health and wellbeing to all with untapped economic potential. We will intensify inclusive human resource development as well as economic and technical cooperation to better equip our people with the skills and knowledge for the future. We will promote economic policies, cooperation and growth which support global efforts to address all environmental challenges, including climate change, extreme weather and natural disasters, for a sustainable planet”.

It was also stated, “To maintain APEC’s unique position as the premier forum for regional economic cooperation as well as a modern, efficient and effective incubator of ideas, we will embrace continuous improvement of APEC as an institution through good governance and stakeholder engagements.

We will advance the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 with a spirit of equal partnership, shared responsibility, mutual respect, common interest, and common benefit. We will achieve it by 2040, with an appropriate implementation plan and review of its progress.”

APEC senior officials are tasked to complete a comprehensive implementation plan for their consideration in 2021.

Leaders will be hosted by New Zealand during its APEC chairmanship in 2021. According to a press statement, the host year will be held fully virtual, as announced in June this year, “demonstrating New Zealand’s leadership in digital diplomacy amidst the global pandemic”.

In a video introducing the New Zealand’s APEC year presented at the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, “As we plan for recovery from COVID-19, it is the economic cooperation through APEC that will help us to rebuild.”

Prime Minister Ardern, who will be the chair of the 2021 APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting acknowledged the challenges the world faces today, and stressed the need for member economies to work together for the greater good.

She explained that New Zealand will create an environment where connections can be made and APEC’s work can continue, including progress on sustainability, ensuring widespread adoption of digital tools to drive productivity and developing inclusive plans to create opportunities for all.

“The way we respond as a region to today’s challenges will be felt for generations to come,” added Ardern.

“APEC 2021 New Zealand will be the start of reigniting growth, continuing trade and setting a plan for long-lasting recovery across the entire region.”

New Zealand will begin its host year with a symposium and the Informal Senior Officials Meeting in December 2020, followed by the first formal gatherings of senior officials early next year.