WASHINGTON, D.C – The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the premiere economic policy organization in the region, plays a unique role in supporting sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the Asia Pacific through a holistic approach which empowers government, business, and civil society sectors of its member economies.
Representatives from these three sectors gathered in Washington, DC to talk about the priorities, goals, and milestones of APEC during “APEC Philippines 2015,” a symposium held on 30 October 2015 at the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center. The gathering was organized by the US-Philippines Society, in partnership with the US Chamber of Commerce, the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC, and the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center.
To explain how APEC works, keynote speaker Laura Q. Del Rosario, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Economic Relations and Chair for the Senior Officials’ Meeting of APEC 2015, likened APEC to a musical masterpiece.
“APEC works like the music of Johannes Sebastian Bach. It’s like having so many instruments playing together and each instrument has its own music but somehow they all lead to one major goal. They all play under one definite key,” said Undersecretary Del Rosario.
The one major goal and one definite key for this year is “Building inclusive economies, Building a better world,” a theme the Philippines, as the Chair of APEC 2015, has chosen.
MSME and the inclusive growth agenda
Keynote speaker Matthew J. Matthews, US Department of State Deputy Assistant Secretary and Senior Official for APEC described inclusive growth as everyone having a “fair shot because everyone is playing on a level playing field.”
To level the playing field, APEC is working on strengthening micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) so that these businesses can enter the global market. Bringing more businesses into global business chains is one of the main goals under the APEC inclusive growth agenda.
During her remarks, Doris Magsaysay-Ho, Chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council, talked about the crucial role technology plays in leveling the playing field for MSMEs.
“Today, one of the greatest trends that make this idea of inclusive growth so much more possible is technology. That has really opened up the possibility for anybody—man, woman, child, people with disabilities—to really be participating in endeavors that allow one to cross borders with services and goods,” Doris Magsaysay-Ho.
An example of such technology is a program for interactive mapping of incubators being developed by APEC and is set to be launched in November. The interactive map will serve as a networking tool for young entrepreneurs and investors in the region.
“We have partnered with Canada to do interactive mapping for incubators in the region. We have started with six economies and hopefully by next year we can complete all 21. I think it is so exciting when you can see the possibility of connecting the next generation entrepreneurs and a venture capitalist being able to find somebody inventing something in Indonesia, for example,” said Magsaysay-Ho.
Inclusive growth also entails optimizing the full participation of women in the economy. According to Monica Whaley, President of the National Center for APEC, the Philippines is a perfect example of having women as active players, citing that the country has two female APEC chairs in Undersecretary del Rosario as SOM Chair and Ms. Magsaysay-Ho as ABAC Chair.
In his closing remarks, Ambassador John F. Maisto, President of the US-Philippines Society, also pointed out that seven of the eleven speakers at the forum were women.
Health and the environment
APEC has also shown seriousness in making sure public health and environmental concerns are addressed in the process of creating inclusive economies. The organization has thus included businesses and non-profits working health and environmental issues in APEC meetings.
According to Nicholas J. Mallos, Director of the Trash Free Seas program of Ocean Conservancy, a growing amount of waste and pollution is one of the consequences of a growing economy.
“With increase in prosperity, we are seeing rapid growth in plastics consumption. Unfortunately, with that growth in plastics consumption and waste generation, we have not seen a similar growth at the same pace in waste management capacity. The result has been waste flowing into rivers, into waterways, and ultimately into the ocean,” said Mallos.
This challenge, however, also poses a great economic opportunity for the region.
“The challenge posed by this mismatch certainly are detrimental and pose environmental and economic cons but it also poses many opportunities if we can get the right conditions in place to foster the creation of a waste management industry,” said Mallos.
A cleaner environment translates to healthier workers, and “healthy workers are better workers,” according to Nancy S. Travis, Vice President for International Compliance and Governance for the Advanced Medical Technology Association.
Travis also highlighted the importance of a strong healthcare system to support strong economic growth.
“The less money spent on what happens to you after the hospital, the more money you have for addressing more important health issues,” said Travis.
According to Undersecretary Del Rosario, achieving the goal of inclusive growth will entail structural reform, which includes reexamining how countries build the quality of their human resource.
“Structural reform needs to have a whole of government approach. Because of this, we thought that we should start with education. Somehow, I think all the economies agree that without improving our own education and addressing the needs of the future, we will not be able to address the challenges that business will bring,” said Undersecretary Del Rosario.
She added, “Our children now are being trained for jobs that don’t exist yet. We do not know what the jobs of the future will look like so we have to train our people in such a way that they will learn how to be nimble, they will know how to connect the dots.”
Undersecretary Del Rosario ended by saying she hopes that “APEC will live up to its promise of being an incubator of ideas, an incubator of policies, and that it is really a leader in the Asia Pacific region.”