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Pandemic Must Remain Our Highest Priority: Business Leaders To APEC Ministers

Issued by the APEC Secretariat

Singapore, 5 June 2021

APEC trade ministers joined the Asia-Pacific business leaders on Friday to hear from the private sector their views toward the forum’s focus on regional economic integration, trade implications resulting from the economic response to COVID-19 and how economies can be made more resilient to future shocks.

“Free, fair and open trade has unlocked massive growth across the Asia-Pacific,” said New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth, Damien O’Connor who is also the 2021 Chair of the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting. “But without the energy of the business community this growth would not have occurred.”

Recognizing the severe impact of the pandemic on businesses and industries like tourism, Minister O’Connor pointed to the strategic role of the private sector in advising governments on “how we can work together to defeat COVID-19, how we can sustain our economies through the pandemic and then build economies that are more sustainable, more inclusive.”

The dialogue was held on the eve of the 2021 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting, aimed to advance practical ideas in managing the unprecedented health and economic crisis that will boost economic activity and help businesses in the region.

“The pandemic must remain our highest priority,” said Rachel Taulelei, 2021 Chair of APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in her opening remarks at the dialogue. “We must ensure that trade plays a role in combatting the worst, continuing effects of COVID-19 through open and unrestricted trade in vaccines, essential medical supplies and associated products.”

Reiterating the importance of supporting the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the critical role it has to play in the economic recovery. Taulelei asserted that it is impossible to build more sustainable and resilient communities through trade unless “we accord primacy to the role of the WTO and the multilateral system of rules for international trade.”

The business council’s theme for the year is People, Place and Prosperity, putting emphasis on inclusion for all of the people in the region, safeguarding the planet and achieving a prosperous region by building a seamless Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. Taulelei emphasized that the FTAAP must continue to be at the heart of the APEC vision for a more seamless, dynamic and resilient region.

“It is imperative for APEC as a forum to deepen our engagement with the private sector and to reflect the reality on the ground by developing policy measures that are effective and appropriate to boost business opportunities and confidence,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat.

Ministers and ABAC members exchanged views on regional economic integration, considering the most critical issues that the WTO should focus on at the upcoming Twelfth Ministerial Conference.

The group also deliberated on the economic response to COVID-19, particularly on maintaining open supply chains and keeping the free flow of essential goods and vaccines, as well as what trade facilitation and digital trade facilitation can do to boost recovery.

Preventing and making economies more resilient to future shocks also were highlighted in the discussion, including policies and actions that ensure inclusion and sustainability.

“Somehow there never seems to be a right time for bold action to transform the environment in which we do business in the region,” Taulelei concluded. “We are now in the worst of the worst of times – and that does require boldness, ambition and commitment.”

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