If I had to choose an Olympic sport to describe running a global business these days, it would be trampolining, with all of its wild highs and lows.
Finding ways to improve that business environment will be the top of mind issue when the 63 members of the Apec Business Advisory Council, or Abac, sit down (or these days Zoom in) with the leaders of Apec's 21 economies for our annual discussion in November.
As New Zealand is chairing Apec this year, that means we get the opportunity to frame the discussion.
If there was ever a time for this kōrero, it is surely now, when the continuing challenge of the pandemic requires a co-ordinated, collective response. When it comes to finding the solutions for overcoming the health crisis, getting back into growth mode and addressing long term structural issues like sustainability, digitalisation and inclusion, Abac ensures the voice of business is heard.
Our theme this year is designed to put our work in a coherent framework — "People, Place and Prosperity, or Tāngata, Taiao me te Taurikura".
We need to put people (ngā tāngata) at the centre of everything we do. We need to do so in a way that respects and preserves the environment (te taiao) in which we live. And we have to continue to have regard for continuing to advance economic wellbeing (te taurikura).
Trade and investment have a key role to play, both in combating the virus through freer trade in vaccines and essential health supplies, and in securing the recovery. In the words of the Putrajaya Vision adopted last year, Apec aims to create "an open, dynamic, resilient and peaceful Asia-Pacific community by 2040".
But a vision without a plan is a day-dream, and Abac has focused on what is needed to create a seamless environment where it is as easy to do business in one part of the Apec region as another. That means paying attention to eliminating tariff and non-tariff barriers for both goods and services, to making behind-the-border regulatory frameworks more coherent and to facilitating more cross-border investment.
Abac is particularly invested in two important elements: the World Trade Organisation, as the ultimate maker, keeper and upholder of the rules governing international trade; and the eventual Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) as an organising principle to achieve greater integration.
Abac has spent a lot of time this year talking about the conditions under which borders might eventually be opened safely and seamlessly. While safeguarding the health of our communities has to be of key concern right now, it is not too early to start thinking about how we might return to a more normal situation when it is appropriate to do so.
It has been said that the pandemic is just a curtain raiser for the wider challenge facing the world in the form of rapidly increasing and dangerous climate change. This year, under the leadership of my colleague Malcolm Johns, Abac has focused on the principles that might guide business in its response.
We have benefited greatly from the work of the Climate Leaders' Coalition in New Zealand. Our Abac principles focus on reduction and decoupling from fossil fuels and the adoption of renewable energy; adaptation of both behaviour and technologies; and achieving "just transitions" which are fair, equitable and inclusive. Freer trade in environmental goods and services and a multilateral approach to climate-related trade policy are also part of the mix.
Food security has been a long-standing concern in Apec; this year New Zealand is leading the adoption of a new Food Security Roadmap to 2030 and Abac is working hard to ensure that the private sector is fully part of that effort.
It is critical to ensure that the needs of groups which have not benefited as much as others from economic growth and development in Apec are addressed. We are thinking here particularly of micro, small and medium sized enterprises, women and indigenous people among others.
In July Abac hosted the first ever Indigenous Business Leaders' Dialogue; we were joined for a stimulating discussion by over 90 indigenous business leaders from eight economies. The meeting adopted a statement of priorities which focused on the needs of indigenous people in the areas of connectivity, infrastructure and data.
Digitalisation is impacting every part of our economies. This year we've tackled the digital pillar of our work in three ways. First, in a work stream led by our own Anna Curzon, we've looked at ways to expand digital uptake and make best-practice support programmes more readily available. Second, we've encouraged greater interoperability for systems for digital trade: e-documents; e-invoicing; e-payments; and the privacy and security systems that surround them are all key issues. And third, we've considered how to develop a more conducive environment for the adoption of new technologies like AI and digital health.
To make all this work, we need to focus on both the short and long term.
As we gradually get on top of the global health crisis, we should co-ordinate approaches to fiscal stimulus, business and income support. Longer term, attention must be paid to the continuing structural reform of our economies to build resilience to future shocks.
These are the key elements of the "business truth we will be speaking to Apec power" when we engage with some of the world's largest economies and important trade partners for New Zealand. New Zealand takes a turn at chairing Apec every 20 years or so. That's when we get to offer our unique perspective to the rest of our region.
Whether at the level of government or business, that's both a big responsibility and a big opportunity. In this topsy turvy world, the future of our people, place and prosperity depends on getting it right.
- Rachel Taulelei is the 2021 chair of the Apec Business Advisory Council.