Many people might not be familiar with the work APEC does – but those four letters represent an economic powerhouse that touches everyone's lives in one form or another.
From the price you pay for a new car to the technology forging more sustainable ways of working, this is an organisation changing the way we live.
Formally known as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC is a collective of 21 economies and 3 billion people around the Pacific Rim. Unlike other organisations, this is a place where policy is shaped by talking and compromise, not by creating laws or treaties.
New Zealand is hosting APEC in 2021 and leads the charge on two items that will have a critical impact on the Asia-Pacific. The first is working on a regional response to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the other – the Putrajaya Vision – sets the agenda for the next 20 years.
APEC New Zealand Deputy Secretary Andrea Smith says as host, New Zealand is at the leading edge of shaping the agenda of the Asia-Pacific and certainly has "skin in the game".
"Fourteen of our top 20 export markets are APEC members, including the three largest economies in the world—the United States, China and Japan – and 18 of our 19 free trade agreements are with APEC partners."
APEC's work focuses on connecting and integrating economies, making it easier to do business within and between them, Smith says. It provides a forum for leaders, ministers and officials to meet, share experiences and develop best practices and shared norms for trade and economic policy.
By working closer together and streamlining processes, it means fewer headaches for importers and exporters.
"Trade between APEC economies is now eight times greater than it was in 1989; average incomes in the region have more than doubled," Smith says.
That means exports take less time to get to where they are going, and at a lower cost: "Seventy-one per cent of New Zealand's exports go to APEC member economies and one in four New Zealanders are employed in the export economy."
For New Zealand's Senior Officials' Meeting chair Vangelis Vitalis, 2021 is an enormous opportunity, especially since Covid-19 "changed everything for everybody in the region".
It's a chance for New Zealand to galvanise action to show leadership, he says, and take responsibility for some of the Covid-19 response across Asia-Pacific.
"As a region, we need to work together to ensure APEC effectively responds, not just to the immediate crisis but also to the longer-term need to build a sustainable and resilient regional economy that benefits everyone."
Planning for hosting APEC 2021 had been under way for three years when Covid-19 came along. That planning included how to move and accommodate some 20,000 representatives through the year, plus coordinating the motorcades needed to move leaders of 21 economies through Auckland.
In June, when the Government announced APEC 2021 would go virtual, that planning went out the window and new challenges popped up.
How to run a trade conference involving thousands of people at all hours of the day and night? How to keep officials engaged, the workload efficient and meaningful?
Smith says it involved a delicate dance: "A virtual APEC host year means a lot of meetings – around 250-300. In a normal host year, meetings can run for hours and hours but, with some economies calling in the middle of the night, we need to keep meetings shorter."
Shorter meetings mean more personal contact outside them and officials are keeping in touch by phone, email and video-conferencing.
"So the challenge is to host around 250-300 meetings across many time zones, with 21 economies, including New Zealand."
Officials have found the move to virtual has been relatively smooth – in fact, many of the meetings held to date have had greater participation than in physical events.
Smith says that doesn't mean the days of a physical APEC event are over - there are many benefits to meeting in person. However the streamlined meeting format being used at APEC 2021 helps shape the case that progress is possible, even if it's done through a webcam.
For more information please go to apec2021nz.org