Geopolitics will form the backdrop to a key meeting of Asia-Pacific business power-brokers and senior officials which gets under way in Auckland today.

Some 200 participants from the 21 Asia-Pacific economies who will take part in the Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) meeting won't be launching any skirmishes of their own.

China's Xi Jinping and America's Donald Trump have already posited their own leadership claims to the region.

And their respective positioning will have influence no matter the personal viewpoints of the business representatives (three per economy appointed by their respective political leaders).


The benefits of globalisation has become a point of contention in many economies.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos — which Xi did not attend this year — the Chinese president staked out a shared future: "As long as we keep to the goal of building a community of shared future for mankind and work hand in hand to fulfil our responsibilities and overcome difficulties, we will be able to create a better world and deliver better lives for our peoples," were his published comments in state-owned agency Xinhua.

Trump who did attend Davos, with his economics and trade team retinue of Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer and Gary Cohn, clarified his earlier "America First" sloganeering to read "America First, not America Alone".

His reminder that the United States is still less protectionist that many other major economies was well received by the elite forum. Particularly, his emphasis on fast growth and the fact that the US is open to investment and business.

It has been commonplace in media to demonise Trump as an isolationist and pump Xi as a proponent of open markets and anti-protectionism.

But it's notable the PwC's 21st CEO survey — also released at Davos — showed a majority of chief executives (57 per cent) believe global economic growth will improve over the next 12 months; this is the highest recorded in the survey's history.

And while China and the US have long vied for the top spot in terms of attractiveness to global investment (China had firmly held the lead until 2015) this had changed. The US had gained ascendancy with 46 per cent of CEO respondents (outside of the US) nominating the United States as most important for their organisation's overall growth prospects compared to 33 per cent for China.

This geo-contest will be top of mind for the US and Chinese participants who will take part in closed sessions.


Among them is Frank (Gaoning) Ning, who led more than 30 major M&As to make China Resources one of the largest food conglomerates in China.

He also served as the chairman of state-owned COFCO and is currently chairman of Sinochem.

Ning has been to New Zealand before and will also take part in a panel discussion today on China's Belt and Road Initiative with the two other Chinese ABAC representatives: Diane Wang (CEO of DHgate) and Tian Guoli who is chairman of China Construction Bank.

The United States is represented by Richard Cantor who is chief risk officer at Moodys and Marija Zivanovic-Smith who is a vice-president at NCR. Other notables include Australia's Sir Rod Eddington, a former CEO of British Airways and chairman of Infrastructure Australia; Tracey Fellows who is CEO of the REA Group and Robert Milliner, a senior adviser at Wesfarmers.

From a New Zealand perspective there will be much interest in the continuing debate over a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific which has long been pushed in Apec circles. Assuming the CPTPP is signed off in March and implemented next year this will be a real fillip to regional trade liberalisation and could form the basis of a much heralded Asia-Pacific deal. But the differing approaches by China and the US are relevant.

At the recent Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, the International Monetary Fund's David Lipton said China has been a voice of reason in the debate over trade and economic integration at a time when many economies had doubts.

But Lipton also underscored that China was hardly a poster child for free trade. "China should be open to look at its own restrictions on trade and investment, which have generated criticism from some trading partners," he said.

Lipton has observed that the protectionist sentiments that have arisen in the West are a response to the perceived shortcomings of trade and economic integration and the unaddressed gap between winners and losers. He stressed this has not, so far, become an issue in Asia where there have been few losers; rather rapid growth has resulted in big winners and smaller winners.

Officials see the Abac event as a means to continue to consolidate New Zealand's economic and commercial relationship with the Apec economies which account for 70 per cent of NZ exports and imports and a substantial proportion of foreign direct investment.

The Abac New Zealand team comprises Katherine Rich, Phil O'Reilly and Tenby Powell, supported by Stephen Jacobi (alternate member and lead staffer) and Stephanie Honey (staffer).

The meeting is a precursor for New Zealand's own hosting of Apec in 2021.