In this webinar, Tan Sri Datuk Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Mr Benjamin Tan and Mr Eduardo Pedrosa discussed “Asia-Pacific in 2020: Looking Back and Looking Forward”.
SINGAPORE APEC STUDY CENTRE WEBINAR
Monday, 14 December 2020 – The panellists discussed the achievements of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, during Malaysia’s year as chairman of APEC. They also discussed some key elements of the APEC Putrajaya 2040 Vision and shared their insights on how APEC can continue to drive growth in the Asia Pacific and Southeast Asia. The discussion also extended to the impact of COVID-19 on the economies in the Asia Pacific, as well as what the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) means for the eventual establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
The webinar featured the insights of Tan Sri Datuk Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria (Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat in Singapore), Mr Benjamin Tan (Senior Assistant Director at the Trade Division of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) in Singapore) and Mr Eduardo Pedrosa (Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) International Secretariat based in Singapore). The discussion was moderated by Dr Siwage Dharma Negara, Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
The discussion began with Tan Sri Datuk Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria’s presentation on APEC’s year in 2020. The theme of Malaysia’s chairmanship of APEC in 2020 is “Optimising human potential towards a resilient future of shared prosperity: Pivot, Prioritise, Progress”. As chairman of APEC, Malaysia had three priorities: first, to improve the narrative of trade and investment; second, to push for inclusive economic participation through digital economy and technology; third, to drive innovative sustainability. Tan Sri Datuk Dr Rebecca also shared how many well-intended plans could not be implemented due to the disruption arising from the pandemic. In spite of the disruption, APEC quickly regrouped and rose to the challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Six sectoral ministerial meetings and high-level policy dialogues were also held virtually, via videoconferencing platforms. These ministerial meetings included meetings between health and finance ministers, as well as policy dialogues on women and the economy.
The key deliverables of APEC in 2020 were the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 and the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) statement on COVID-19. The APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 was a key achievement, as it was the first joint communique in three years. The APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 is a vision of an open, dynamic and peaceful Asia Pacific community. The endorsement of the vision will make free and fair trade the focus of the APEC agenda for the next two decades. The APEC also delivered on the three priority areas identified earlier in the year, in spite of the pandemic. In line with the priority to push for inclusive economic participation through digital economy and technology, progress was made on the women empowerment and digital economy front. The La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth was implemented, along with a final review of the Boracay Action Agenda to globalize Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). Before bringing her presentation to a close, Tan Sri Datuk Rebecca also shared New Zealand’s Vision for APEC 2021, which is to “Join, Work, Grow, Together”.
For the second presentation, Mr Benjamin Tan, Senior Assistant Director at the Trade Division of the MTI in Singapore, shared Singapore’s perspectives on the refreshed APEC. He started by noting that APEC economies account for 75% of Singapore’s total trade. APEC is also a useful platform to share best practices beyond trade; Singapore is therefore supportive of strengthening a wide range of agenda besides trade and actively seeks to strengthen its linkages with the other APEC economies. Mr Benjamin Tan also further contextualised the work of APEC in the tumultuous year that 2020 has turned out to be. He noted that going into 2020, APEC seemingly had a shadow behind it as there has not been a consensus statement for the past two years. There was, therefore, a stronger need to arrive at a consensus statement in 2020. He praised Malaysia’s APEC chairmanship for adhering to transparent and open processes, and for clearly prioritising the consensus statement. In doing so, Malaysia built on the good work done by the APEC vision group in 2018.
Mr Benjamin Tan also shared some key outcomes of the 2020 APEC Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM). He noted that the AELM was the only public-facing event for APEC leaders, and there was a good turnout this year. The leaders also agreed upon most issues. Consensus statements were thus released for all six sectoral ministerial meetings. He also commended APEC’s push for public engagement in 2020, citing the APEC Voices of the Future programme. Programmes like this are important to explain how trade benefits the common man, ultimately galvanizing domestic support for free and fair trade instead of succumbing to protectionist tendencies.
In the final presentation, Mr Eduardo Pedrosa, Secretary General of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) International Secretariat, shared some insights to the economic outlook of the Asia Pacific in 2020 and beyond, survey findings on the impact of COVID-19 and the impact of RCEP on the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). He started by sharing findings from a perception survey conducted by PECC, which indicated that most respondents expected a ‘swoosh’ shaped recovery for the Asia-Pacific over a 5-year period, rather than a stronger V-shaped recovery. He notes that the extraordinarily pessimistic view amongst respondents has important policy consequences – low levels of confidence about the future lead to lower spending levels for both households and businesses. Ultimately that confidence will only be restored when the pandemic is over, and a vaccine is discovered. Mr Eduardo Pedrosa also stressed the importance of international cooperation to reduce uncertainties in the future.
Moving on to discuss the recently signed RCEP, he noted that the RCEP is a welcome development in a region in need of a boost. RCEP is important for regional value chains as it reduces non-tariff barriers by creating common rules of origin, and services and investment provisions. In spite of the negative reviews, major pathways to the FTAAP are now coming into place, with the CTPPP entering into force in 2018. An eventual FTAAP could spell very big gains of around US$2 trillion per annum for the region. Wrapping up his presentation, Mr Eduardo Pedrosa emphasized that APEC has a unique role to play in ensuring the Asia Pacific stays open to free and fair trade, in order to safeguard the prosperity of the region.
The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer segment where the panel engaged with the audience on a variety of issues. They included the challenges in harmonising digital economy and trade; how Covid-19 has brought enormous challenges to the region and how to build back better; the varied digital preparedness of governments and APEC’s role in fostering dialogue to mitigate challenges faced in digitalisation and APEC’s role in the economic recovery of the region moving forward.