Asia-Pacific business power brokers lined up for photographs with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins when he arrived at the Cordis hotel for a welcome reception on Sunday evening.
Hipkins let on that it wasn’t that hard an ask for him to brave the impending cyclone to welcome the delegates to the three-day Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) meeting.
“I would like to tell you that I had braved the weather to get here to be with you this evening,” quipped Hipkins.
“But I actually came up yesterday so I could attend the Ed Sheeran concert.
“Us gingers have got to stick together.
“I’m not entirely sure when I’m going to be able to go home though.”
Hipkins acknowledged it was a difficult time for Auckland and took delegates through the preparations that had been made as the cyclone approached.
“One of our objectives as a Government is to really support the people of Auckland through this flurry of natural disasters. To make sure we come out the other side with Auckland back on its feet and really pumping again because Auckland is the huge economic powerhouse for the whole of the country.”
Hipkins said the Government welcomed the United States leadership of Apec as the host of Apec in 2023 and its focus on opportunity, equity and sustainability.
“Sustainability in particular, and responding to the challenge of climate change, is very important and at the forefront of New Zealand’s thinking at the moment and the weather certainly focuses our minds on that.”
The organisers of the Abac meeting had been keeping a weather eye out for the cyclone.
Delegates the Herald spoke with were excited at the opportunity to meet and hear from the new Prime Minister.
A number of Abac delegates had cancelled travel plans for fear of getting stuck in Auckland and missing other diary dates on their schedules. But some 160 delegates, officials and New Zealand businesspeople will still take part in the formal meetings and hosting opportunities.
It may no longer be quite what outgoing Abac New Zealand member Malcolm Johns had in mind when he dubbed the meeting the “backyard barbecue” – an opportunity (finally) for this country to host an Apec-related meeting and show manaakitanga to regional businesspeople after the disappointment that New Zealand’s Apec host year of 2021 had to be held virtually due to Covid travel restrictions affecting Apec’s 21 member economies.
The United States will host Apec Leaders week in San Francisco beginning on November 12. Apec senior official Matt Murray, who is a senior player in the US State Department, is in Auckland briefing delegates on the United State’s ambitions and planned deliverables for its 2023 host year.
The Abac meeting itself is being chaired by Dominic Ng, chairman and CEO of East West Bank, who was appointed by the White House to serve as the Abac chair in the US’ host year.
Rachel Taulelei, who is New Zealand’s lead Abac member, said the event had taken on particular importance after three years of Covid disruption and at a time when New Zealand is actively seeking to develop further the economic relationship with the United States and other Asia Pacific economies.
“Recent economic times have been hard for many, and particularly so for business,” said Taulelei.
“This event will assist in helping chart a course out of current difficulties.”
Keynote strategic presentations were being made by HSBC’s Asia chief economist and managing director Frederic Neumann and Andrew Grant, who leads McKinsey and Company’s global public sector practice.
Said Abac NZ alternate member Stephen Jacobi, “the big issues where New Zealand has carriage of the whole Abac agenda is progress towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (Ftaap), reducing protectionism and making sure markets stay open.
Other key issues on Abac’s agenda of importance to New Zealand include trade and climate change, although there are concerns it will be difficult to find a way to form concrete recommendations to present to Trade Ministers.
Key New Zealand companies such as Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms have chipped in with substantial sponsorship to underwrite the event.
Monday’s gala dinner at the Cordis is expected to go ahead but the organisers are expecting lower numbers given it will take place at the projected time of peak rainfall. Some ancillary events – such as a visit to Xero’s Parnell HQ which is based in an area affected by the recent Auckland floods – have been cancelled.
Nevertheless, Jacobi remained confident the three-day programme will provide an important opportunity to show the innovation and versatility of New Zealand businesses to an influential audience.
Apec (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) is the region’s leading inter-governmental forum for economic co-operation - 21 economies from the Asia Pacific region are members, representing over 70 per cent of NZ exports.
Apec Leaders meet annually to free up trade and investment, promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, build the foundations for the digital economy and set the economic direction for the region.
Three business leaders from each of the 21 economies are appointed to Abac by their respective Head of Government.