The Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) has released its Report to Apec Economic Leaders — undeterred by the complications of the virtual Apec year — and its work has placed a new emphasis on the well-being of people.
The pandemic has upset lives and livelihoods.
It has also disrupted this year's hosting of Apec by New Zealand. Gone is the "barbecue at our place" and instead the year has been one long Zoom — long enough apparently to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy 85 times.
And that's just on the Government side — for the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) over 80 online meetings have replaced four three-day meetings normally held in far-flung locations around the Asia Pacific region.
But the pandemic been totally unsuccessful in interrupting meaningful engagement between officials and business leaders from across Apec's 21 economies.
Their work has been complicated by the pandemic, no doubt, and has highlighted significant differences between the membership.
How best to respond to the health crisis for example, and how to move to safe and seamless border re-opening — that has been particularly challenging, given the varied stages of the outbreak and as vaccines are only now becoming more readily available across the region. Somehow Apec has to chart a way through these differences.
Clearly not everyone is in the same boat when it comes to Covid, but surely, we are all on the same sea.
As Abac's 63 members make clear in their annual report to Apec leaders, the pandemic response needs to be global, and it needs to be co-ordinated.
Getting everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible is key to overcoming the health crisis, enabling borders to re-open when circumstances permit, and restarting the engines of growth.
Abac's theme for 2021 has been "People, Place and Prosperity" or "Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura".
Putting people (ngā tāngata) first is the top priority, but the challenges do not end there.
Moving forward in respect for the environment (te taiao) and advancing prosperity (te taurikua) in ways that are not just sustainable, but also inclusive were also top of mind.
Abac's final report contains 43 separate recommendations across the five pillars of Abac's work this year in the areas of regional economic integration; sustainability; inclusion; digital; and the economy.
To foster the wellbeing of our people, Abac has called for capacity-building and structural reform to empower smaller businesses, women and Indigenous communities.
Abac Chair Rachel Taulelei led an initiative this year to bring together 90 indigenous business leaders from eight Apec economies — their statement of priorities is included in Abac's report to leaders.
Achieving a digitally-enhanced, trade-friendly and sustainable Apec food system is also foundational for the health and welfare of the region's people. To safeguard the place in which we live, Abac believes a concern for sustainability must drive all of Apec's activity.
A set of Climate Leadership Principles for Business was developed under the leadership of Abac NZ Member Malcolm Johns, along with a companion framework for trade and investment in renewable energy. Both are means of galvanizing further climate ambition on the part of Apec economies, with COP26 in Glasgow under way this week.
To foster prosperity, Apec has an opportunity to show leadership by championing a credible and relevant World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the lead up to November's WTO Ministerial Conference.
Building towards the eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) on the foundation of agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) remains a key goal. There is likewise an urgent need to realise the potential of the digital economy, as work led by Abac NZ's Anna Curzon showed, through upgrading skills, investing in infrastructure and enabling more seamless, interoperable digital trade.
On November 12, Abac Members will sit down — virtually of course — with the Apec Leaders themselves to discuss the ideas contained in the report.
Abac will emphasise the world is more deeply interconnected than ever and while the challenges we face are profound, they are also shared. That idea of an Apec "community" is fundamental to Apec's Putrajaya Vision 2040, adopted last year. A Vision Implementation Plan is set to be adopted at this year's Leaders' meeting. Abac has repeated consistently that the region cannot wait 20 more years to achieve its ambitious goals. The time for action is now.
Not all of Abac's recommendations are likely to please and not all will be accepted, even in a pandemic year when leadership is needed most. Abac after all has been waiting since 2004 for FTAAP to be implemented.
Rachel Taulelei put it best when she compared the work of Abac to "that great pounamu stone at Te Pāpā that is slowly worn down by people's hands rubbing the surface, as Abac's words do across the agenda of Apec — "Eventually the beauty shows through".
● Stephen Jacobi is Executive Director of Abac 21 and the NZ International Business Forum. A copy of Abac's full Report may be found here.
Who else is in Abac?
Australia: Gabrielle Costigan, BAE Systems; Tom Harley, Dragoman; Robert Milliner, Australian Payments Council.
Brunei: Hafimi Abdul Haadi, LVK Group; Azaleen Haji Mustapha, Baiduri Bank.
Canada: Janet De Silva, Toronto Region Board of Trade; Timothy Dattels, TPG; Joseph Fung, Saltagen Ventures.
Chile: Richard von Appen, Inversiones Ultramar Ltda; Rosario Navarro, Sonda SA; Alfonso Swett, Costanera SACI.
China: Hu Houkun, Huawei; Liu Liange, Bank of China; Ning Gaoning (Frank), Sinochem Holdings.
Hong Kong: Nicholas Ho, Ho & Partners; Mary Huen, Standard Chartered Bank; Marjorie Yang, Esquel Group.
Indonesia: Anindya N Bakrie, Bakrie Global Ventura; Shinta Kamdani, Sintesa Group; Kartika Wirjoatmodjo, PT Bank.
Japan: Nobuhiro Endo, NEC Corporation; Hiroshi Nakaso, Daiwa Institute of Research; Fumiya Kokubu, Marubeni Corporation.
Korea: Yongmaan Park, Doosan Business Research Institute; Kyung Shik Sohn, Korea Enterprises Federation; Sam Kwon Kang, Korea Venture Business Association.
Malaysia: Datuk Ruben Emir Gnanalingam, Westports Holdings Berhad; Dato Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood, RM Capital Partners; Tengku Muhammad Taufik Tengku Kamadjaja Aziz,
Mexico: Sergio Ley, Mexican Business Council for Foreign Trade, Investment and Technology; Guillermo Miller, Mexican Chemical Manufacturers Association; John Anthony Santa Maria, Coca Cola.
Papua New Guinea: Isikeli Taureka, Kumul Consolidated Holdings; James Gore, Gore Consulting; Chey Scovel, Manufacturers Council.
Peru: Alfonso Bustamante, CFI Holdings; Guillermo Ferreyros, Savia Peru; Julia Torreblanca, Sociedad Minera Cerro Verde.
Philippines: Tomas Alcantara, Alsons Consolidated Resources; Joanne de Asis, Globe Capital Partners; Sabin M. Aboitiz, Aboitiz Equity Ventures.
Russian Federation: Oleg V. Deripaska, Basic Element; Kirill Dmitriev, Russian Direct Investment Fund; Andrey L. Kostin, VTB Bank.
Singapore: Ho Meng Kit, Singapore Business Federation; Teo Lay Lim, Workforce Singapore; Goh Beng Kim, Finaxar.
Chinese Taipei (Taiwan): Ted Chang, Quanta Computer; Jason Chen, Acer; Jamie C Lin, AppWorks.
Thailand: Poj Aramwattananont, Thai Chamber of Commerce; Kobsak Duangdee, Thai Bankers Association; Supant Mongkolsuthree, The Federation of Thai Industries.
United States: Nathan Gatten, American Airlines; Mark Burkhalter, Burkhalter International.
Vietnam: Dang Thanh Tam, Saigon Invest Group; Nguyen Thanh Hung, Sovico Group; Dr Vu Tien Loc,Vietnam International Arbitration Committee.