Among many conversations at Apec 2021, the agriculture and food ministers got to work and signed off on a new roadmap to boost food security in the region over the next 10 years.
The ministers agreed at the virtual meeting chaired by NZ Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor that one of the biggest challenges facing Apec economies in the post-Covid recovery was ensuring the world has a consistent supply of food.
The World Bank has estimated nearly 2.37 billion people lacked access to adequate food in 2020 — a rise of 320 million in just one year. The Covid pandemic led to major chain supply disruptions, including production and distribution.
The Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 promotes an open, fair, transparent, productive, sustainable and resilient Apec food system that ensures people always have access to sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
To achieve this, the roadmap focuses on four key areas:
● Digitalisation and innovation: The Covid pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, and innovative digitally-enabled economies are better placed to recover and thrive. As well, technology has the potential to transform the food system and enhance food security by minimising food loss and waste, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and reducing costs and facilitating trade.
● Productivity: To create inclusive and sustainable growth in the Asia-Pacific, the productivity and efficiency of the regional food system must be improved.
● Inclusivity: A well-functioning food system and the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises, women, youth, indigenous communities and the elderly is integral to maximising resources, improving rural, remote and coastal livelihoods and unlocking the full potential of the Apec region.
● Sustainability: While Apec is a diverse group of economies, the region is committed to sharing research and practical strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate and adapt to climate change, increase sustainable production and protecting land and water, and minimise environmentally harmful policies.
The Policy Partnership on Food Security (PPFS), in partnership with Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac), will lead the work.
The roadmap emphasised Apec member economies would work with the private sector to shape and enhance the functioning of the food system. The private sector has a central role in the value chain in food production and processing, distribution, trade and investment.
The ministers committed to promoting regular dialogue between the public and private sectors within each economy to advise PPFS on how to enhance the business environment for the food sector.
The roadmap promotes public-private investment in innovative technologies to enhance the food value chain, including improving efficiency and sustainability. It also promotes increased investment in micro, small and medium-sized businesses including start-ups ad small-scale producers in the agri-food and fisheries sectors. The roadmap is also pushing for modernising food storage facilities and logistics capacity through increased exchange and co-operation amongst government agencies, businesses and institutes focusing on post-harvest management and technologies.
Further workshops will now be held to transition from the roadmap to implementation. The next steps on the action areas will identify initiatives by member economies and prioritise the most meaningful outcomes for producers and businesses. The actions and progress of the roadmap will be reviewed in 2025.
Sustainable food production was also discussed at one of the five Live with Business virtual sessions, organised as a build-up to next week's Apec CEO Summit and concentrating on the future of business.
One of the premier partners (sponsors), Fonterra, hosted the discussion on: "A sustainable and resilient Apec food system."
The keynote speaker from Singapore was Matt Kovac, executive director Food Industry Asia, and the panel comprised Vangelis Vitalis, deputy secretary trade and economic with New Zealand Foreign Affairs & Trade; Judith Swales, Fonterra Asia Pacific chief executive; company director Bridget Coates, Chair of the Centre for Sustainable Finance; and dairy farmer Corrigan Sowman, a former Nuffield Scholar.
In his welcoming address, Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell said New Zealand was built on trade, and eight of the top 10 Fonterra trading partners were in the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation.
Three-quarters of the country's dairy exports went to APEC economies.
He said "Covid is still with us and we need to keep working on strengthening the economic recovery and not take our eyes off climate change.
"New Zealand's climate is perfectly suited to sustainable food production with its relatively warm climate, rich soils and healthy dose of rain. It's all good for agriculture production."
The panel discussed the issue of assuring consumers they are buying safe food that has been made sustainably, and telling them what's in the product and where it came from.
Fonterra is one of the first food companies to trace a product from grass to glass — it can trace every drop of the product and knows where it's gone to.
Swales said there was an increased demand for producing high-value nutritional products. "Covid has heightened the importance of food security and nutrition around the world, and New Zealand has such a big role to play in providing a safe and sustainable source for dairy nutrition.
"Dairy is a super food, there's no doubt. It has high protein, high calcium and amino acid, and vitamins. New Zealand dairy farmers are some of the most sustainable in the world and it's important that markets remain open to supply the wonderful, high-nutritional products.
"We hear fantastic stories of creating miracle whey protein products to feed Covid patients, and using the dairy hormones lipids to relieve stress and help mental health. Lipids play an important role in brain development," said Swales.
Vitalis asked: "Are we going to be a follower or lead sustainable food production and security? In New Zealand we can lead it."
A second Live with Business session was hosted by another premier partner Microsoft on: "The digital future of the Asia-Pacific, and how Apec economies can champion inclusive digitisation opportunities."
The panel comprised David Clark, NZ Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications; Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Thai Minister of Digital Economy and Society; Anna Curzon, Xero chief product officer and Abac NZ member; and Mike Yeh, vice-president corporate, external and legal affairs with Microsoft.
The panel talked about the extraordinary pace at which digital innovation is transforming the Asia-Pacific region, and the rise of digital trade. There was a need for collaboration across digital trade, operability and adapting digital policy; ensuring digital innovation is inclusive and fair; and reinforcing consumer trust and growing participation in the online world.
Microsoft New Zealand managing director Vanessa Sorenson said in her welcoming address that the Covid pandemic has changed the world and "here we are leveraging technology, creating new opportunities and finding new ways to make economies stronger.
"I have been in this role for 12 months and most of the time I have been leading through a screen and keyboard — something I wasn't used to but we have all adapted (to working from home) and thrived through unprecedented times.
"We are in a unique position. With New Zealand and Thailand, we have created innovation that can be exploited all across the world," Sorenson said. "We are proud of building hyper scale data centres (for cloud services) in the region. And Apec has a strong focus on digital innovation creating access to new markets."
Like New Zealand, next year's Apec host Thailand is focused on providing greater access to the digital economy, and Chaiwut said Thailand is exploring investment opportunities to become a digital hub in the Asia-Pacific region.
Curzon said the incredible digital transformation in the last 18 months has meant Asia-Pacific has leapfrogged by 10 years. "Last year internet users in the region grew 7.6 per cent — this means an average of 900,000 users joined the internet each day, which is mind-boggling.
"Being digitally capable has gone from a 'nice to have' to a 'must have' in every sector. We have seen developments in gaming, apps, media, cloud computing and high-tech exports. But even traditional exporters such as meat, dairy and machinery can be involved by using blockchain and e-commerce."
Curzon said the digital landscape was fragmented on the ground, and businesses were facing increasing costs and complexity and were not realising the full potential of digital.
"We are leaving money on the table. We are shortchanging businesses which can use the digital tools to become more resilient," she said.
"Small enterprises make up 97 per cent of Apec's business community, and we can help them through training and establishing new portals for digital skills, making e-invoicing more accessible and creating a more seamless regulatory environment."
Curzon said digital trades need to become interoperable. There are different technical standards and regulatory settings in the region and "we need to find a way for the systems to talk and work together.
"We need to strike the right balance between privacy, data protection, security and enabling innovation. End-to-end connectivity is so important for modern business models."
Yeh said Microsoft is keeping pace with developments such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing services but policy-making doesn't move fast enough — regulatory frameworks lag technology.
Curzon said one of Apec's priorities was to create responsive policies for emerging technologies such as AI. "The goal is to have a more seamless digital environment for business and we need ministers and the policy-makers to take more action.
"There is a huge potential here for digital to drive the economic rebuild and create inclusive and sustainable growth."
The other Live with Business Sessions were hosted by premier partners Westpac NZ on "Indigenous inclusion in the global financial economy"; PwC on "The business of trust"; and Contact on "Green energy and hydrogen — how hydrogen can support decarbonisation".