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Speech: PM - Women In APEC

Embargoed until delivery
May be subject to change at delivery


Keynote address to


Plaza International Hotel, Wellington

9.00 am Monday 21 June 1999

Welcome to New Zealand

This is a proud, young country and, we like to think, a leader in many areas.

We like to make our opportunities, and take them as they come up. We value foresight. Those who established the APEC opportunities for our 21 member economies had great foresight. In 1999 our challenge is to forge ahead.

It is significant that the theme of this meeting is 'silver lining' and its symbol is New Zealand's famous icon, the silver fern. The fern stands for potential and talent, unfolding and waiting to be discovered.

New Zealand is proud of its record for women. We have a great story to tell. We constantly strive for improvement.

An early milestone here, of course, was in 1893 when New Zealand led the world in giving women the right to vote.

Over 100 years later, one of my official duties recently was to appoint our new Chief Justice as the Administrator of Government, to carry out the Governor General's roles while he was out of the country.

At her swearing in, it struck me as Prime Minister, with the Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias and our Secretary of Cabinet, Marie Shroff, that all three positions were held by women. I doubt there are many countries in the world where all three positions have been held by women at one time.

New Zealand women continue to carry the flame lit in 1893.

APEC is also a flame to be carried as the 21 economies seek to improve the prosperity of their people.

If APEC is to show its worth, we must demonstrate how it puts money in people's pay-packets and food on their tables.

Economic issues are women's issues. Economic success benefits women, their families and the community.

APEC is the way the world is moving, and women will not be relegated to the sidelines of the biggest, most important economic trends in the world today. I think we moved on from that mindset a long time ago.

The attendance at this conference makes it clear that women intend to be involved, to have their contribution recognised and to plan new ways to expand economic growth and opportunity.

Women contribute in many ways: some as full-time carers of children and the elderly, some in paid work either full or part-time, some in their own businesses, some as business leaders and directors, some in public policy and some in politics.

In all the APEC economies, as around the world, women are on the sharp end of economic change.

Whenever there is poverty and recession, women feel it most keenly. Wherever there are opportunities to get ahead and find new ways of generating wealth and security, remarkable women like you are at the forefront.

The facts are undeniable: the things APEC believes in can help women immeasurably. Freer trade and better markets - the heart of our goals for APEC this year - are ultimately the only real creators of jobs and prosperity.

Women still bear most of the burden of raising children and keeping families secure and happy. Trade, jobs and higher incomes are the best tools they can have. Trade liberalisation is helping this happen. As tariffs are removed, essential goods become cheaper for families and businesses.

Through trade liberalisation, APEC is helping every household's budget. On Friday I'll be releasing the results of a study of tariff reductions.

It has found, for instance, that in 1999 cars in New Zealand cost 16 percent less than they would have without tariff reductions, and clothes are 15 percent cheaper. The study will show how much better off all households are in these and other areas.

It will show how consumers have benefited from these changes in a very real way.

Women - who are often the ones trying to make ends meet for the family - welcome reductions in prices. Tariff reduction is an APEC-wide phenomenon. All APEC economies have agreed to remove tariffs on all goods by 2010 for developed countries and 2020 for developing countries.

As this happens, their people will see real improvement in the purchasing power of their disposable income.

This has been New Zealand's own experience. As we've deregulated our economy and opened it up to the world, women have benefited. Many things are a great deal cheaper than before, and there is far more choice.

While some jobs were lost in the process, overall in this time the labour market has expanded, and women have benefited.

New Zealand has been reforming the domestic economy and lowering trade barriers for 15 years now. The results for women speak for themselves. In our 1998 report to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, we were able to report real progress.

More working age women are involved in the workforce. Women's labour force participation grew by 3 percentage points from 1991 to 1997.

While involvement in the labour force is still higher among Pakeha women than among Maori and Pacific Island women, all groups showed improvements, and the gap between them is getting smaller.

Maori women's labour force participation grew from 50.1 percent to 53.6 percent. The rate for Pacific Island women rose from 50.5 percent to 56.4 percent and that for Pakeha women grew from 54.5 percent to 57.9 percent.

I particularly applaud the inroads made by many strong Maori and Pacific Island women. Their contributions to the State sector and private businesses have been startling, and real models to us all.

The number of people in full-time work grew over the period, as did the numbers in part-time work

I can report that the New Zealand Government is holding its own as we appoint women to public bodies. I recently reviewed the gender balance of appointments made by my Cabinet colleagues. Women accounted for 35 percent of Government appointments in 1998, compared with 25 percent in 1993.

All this, remember, happened against a background of economic liberalisation both at home and abroad, fostered by APEC and GATT.

Likewise, women are getting more from the education system. Girls are staying at school longer than boys. And more young women than men are going on to further education and training. The period has seen a continuing rise in the number of women graduating from tertiary education.

At the same time, other factors that women care about, such as the number of children in pre-school programmes, have grown markedly.

Women are major contributors to the economic powerhouses of the APEC region. We want to be involved as we plan for the future.

In 1996 the APEC Women Leaders' Network held its inaugural meeting. It was then, as now, the only APEC meeting to bring together people from such a variety of sectors, including business, science and technology, non-government organisations, academia, education and the rural sector.

That inaugural meeting issued its Call to Action to the annual APEC Ministerial meeting in the Philippines.

The responding Leaders' Statement formally recognised, for the first time, women's role in the APEC economies. It is intended that this year we should do the same.

This fourth meeting of the APEC Women leaders network will go a long way to acknowledging and expanding women's contribution to economic prosperity in the APEC region.

Together I know you will develop strategies that will assist leaders and other Ministers within APEC:
· to expand opportunities for doing business throughout the APEC region
· to work with other economies to strengthen the functioning of markets; and
· to broaden support for and understanding of APEC in our respective communities

Women have a role in all these areas as we move forward.

Our goals for APEC have added urgency now as we must show we have learnt the lessons from Asia's financial crisis.

One major area of contribution by women is in small and medium enterprises. They were hard hit by the downturn, yet they are now leading the way into regional recovery. Women are prominent in the development and growth of small and medium enterprises.

The importance of SMEs in this process was recognised in the first APEC 99 meeting held in April in Christchurch.

Within APEC, businesses owned by women are expanding more rapidly than the business sector as a whole.

Between 1991 and 1997 in New Zealand there was a stunning 31.5 percent increase in the number of women in self employment. New Zealand women are terrific at taking initiatives.

A recent survey found that New Zealand women are starting their own businesses at the phenomenal rate of 20 each working day.

What is more, 85 percent of these businesses survive their critical first year, compared with 50 percent of those started by men.

Clearly, women have the edge of success in small and medium enterprises. They are major wealth creators and employers. The challenge is to find new areas of innovation were new opportunities can develop. During this conference we will hear from many women who are doing just that.

I suggest that women's creativity, flexibility and resourcefulness are responsible for their success. Our cautious and risk-averse approach to business also makes us a better credit risk than our male counterparts.

Interestingly though, many women said in the survey that financial achievement was just one measure of their success. They rate personal, family and community achievements as equally important.

I am certain that this balanced and realistic approach to business, and to life, is another reason for women's outstanding contribution to economic prosperity.

Women understand that business is part of life, not separate and distinct from it.

As we move into the knowledge-based society of the future, the characteristics that women bring to business will be needed in the world of science and technology. In New Zealand, the numbers are improving.

Balance and sustainability will also be the keywords, and women are beginning to be heard in these areas. There is real opportunity for further involvement.

To reach that higher level, we need to quantify and evaluate women's exact roles and contributions in each sector. Measuring all types of economic contribution, paid and unpaid, is necessary if we are to fully comprehend the complete contribution made by women to the economy

New Zealand's Time Use Survey is an example of such information-gathering. Its data will greatly improve the accuracy of our estimates of women's contribution to the Gross Domestic Product. First results will be available later this year.

Since the first Women Leaders' Network Meeting in 1996, women have made great progress within APEC. Many APEC forums now promote gender related activities in their work. One of your key goals will be to ensure that gender issues are addressed across all of APEC.

The challenge for us now is to increase the benefits to women of trade and investment liberalisation, to see that our domestic markets can deliver sustainable economic growth and to share information and experience of the benefits of international trade and cooperation.

As women leaders in your field, you can break down gender stereotypes and raise awareness of women's contribution to prosperity. I know that's exactly what will occur this week. I thank you for sharing your plans for the future, your experiences and the secrets of your success.

I intend to ensure that great interest is taken in your deliberations and findings.

APEC is built on partnership. Its success will depend on creativity and innovation, dialogue and engagement.

I know that all these things - partnership, creativity, innovation and dialogue - will be in strong supply at this meeting. I look forward to three days of fascinating debate and newly-forged friendships.

I have great pleasure declaring open this fourth conference of Women in APEC.

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