At the shallow end of the pond, one of few advantages of New Zealand moving its 2021 APEC hosting duties online is that Aucklanders won't have their traffic made even more chaotic for a week between Nov. 8 and 14 next year.
At the deep end, the savings in carbon emissions will be immense from not having officials from across the Asia-Pacific region flying to and from NZ for somewhere between 200 and 300 other meetings that come with the responsibility of chairing APEC for a year. In a world where covid-19 has started to make the physical location of anybody involved in a meeting almost irrelevant, NZ may find the digital backstop becomes an investment in proving that distance no longer matters.
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Given that most of the other economic co-benefits of hosting APEC here won't now eventuate, that would not be a trivial outcome. Cracking the tyranny of distance has remained one of NZ businesses' greatest challenges, globalisation notwithstanding.
It does mean that the APEC Leaders' Week, when we might have expected the current presidents of Russia, China, and the United States all to make their way to this country and all at the same time, will now be held on the diplomatic equivalent of a Zoom call.
Instead of 10,000-plus VIPs - global leaders, their officials, their security details, businesspeople, journalists and other hangers-on - packing out every hotel in Auckland, it will be a pretty normal week.
Special legislation allowing those US, Russian, Chinese and other secret service security officers to carry their own weapons was quietly withdrawn from the parliamentary schedule yesterday.
Looking for an excuse
And if the government had ever wanted a decent excuse not to host the summit after the fire at the half-finished International Convention Centre made the showcase venue unavailable, covid-19 has proved to be a doozy.
Some may be seeing the decision to host a 'digital' APEC as a tacit admission from the government that the global pandemic is expected to remain out of control for at least the next 18 months. That could prove to be the case, but it is not the reason for this decision.
The reality is that NZ's APEC 2021 hosting duties are a year-long affair, starting in November this year. To assume that covid will be done and dusted by then, across the 38 percent of the world's population spanning the 19 countries covered by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, would be heroic indeed.
Malaysia, which is meant to be hosting this year's Leaders Week in Kuala Lumpur in four months' time, has yet to make a call on how it will go ahead. The recently elected government there is in such disarray - the new Parliament has yet to meet - that hosting APEC appears to be the least of its worries.
The baton passes to NZ immediately after that meeting and we become responsible for hosting the hundreds of meetings for APEC officials from across the region in the lead-up to the Leaders' Week. It is here, officials argue, that the real work of APEC is done. For all the excitement of seeing Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping in town for a day or two, the main agenda of APEC is far more about quietly making it easier to trade, travel and do business in this part of the world.
The subject matter of most of these meetings, to be frank, is eye-glazingly dull for all but policy wonks and affected industries. Even then, they must struggle some days.
While face-to-face engagement is always valuable, it's reasonable to hope that the NZ initiative will lead to far greater digitisation of the grunt work of APEC in the future. Many ministers and officials would welcome that. Glamorous as all that international travel may sound, it quickly palls and can be exhausting for those who actually do it all the time, not always for outcomes that justify the days away and the jetlag, let alone the carbon emitted to get to and from.
The move will also presumably mean NZ spends less than the $85 million-plus that it was going to cost to host the event.
The downside is that a lot of NZ hotel beds won't be used that might have been, although many of those are in use for covid quarantine for the foreseeable future and the Leaders Week extravaganza itself amounts only to a week's lost income.
Others losses for both NZ and, potentially, the APEC vehicle itself are harder to measure but real.
For NZ, there is the loss of showcasing the country, its tourism products, its investment potential, and the increasingly rare example of a liberal democracy that actually works.
This latter element had been one that organisers were giving some thought to, following extensive consultations during the planning phase.
For APEC, it will be the third year in a row since it was formed in 1990 that its annual leaders' summit won't occur in person.
Last year, civil unrest in Chile saw the leaders' summit in Santiago cancelled because of security concerns. The prior year's summit in Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea, was largely shunned by the leaders of the largest participating members of APEC.
Even if Malaysia tries to hold a meeting this year, it will very likely be thinly attended too because of covid concerns and travel restrictions.
Tricky conversations avoided
So the loss of the Auckland summit simply recognises the likelihood that, even by November next year, the NZ government could have been in the invidious position of telling the leaders of countries both large and small that they couldn't come here if they didn't have the virus under control at home.
Because of its trade and services policy agenda, APEC has at times struggled for relevance, competing as it does with numerous other global associations where the leaders of the largest nations can already congregate. For smaller nations, like NZ, the APEC summit is chance for face-time they don't usually get.
And the summits themselves can be moments when larger global issues can come into focus.
The last time the APEC Leaders' Week was held in NZ, in 1999, the Indonesian army was moving into East Timor and burning the tiny country to the ground in an effort to overturn the result of its people's vote to become an independent nation.
It looked as if the world might again just ignore the latest chapter of Jakarta's long-standing policy of brutal suppression.
Instead, US President Bill Clinton was in town along with the leaders of most of the main players in the Asia-Pacific region.
Their congregation for a brief period in Auckland was the catalyst for the swift mobilisation of the United Nations intervention that stopped Indonesia's plans in their tracks. It wouldn't have happened without APEC, and it wouldn't have happened without the leaders being in the same room.
That sort of intangible value is unlikely ever to be replicated on a Zoom call.