JAKARTA – Unrestricted trade in vaccines and medical supplies can help tackle the continued impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, which must remain a priority, Asia-Pacific business leaders told APEC trade ministers during a dialogue.
The dialogue on Friday was organized to allow the private sector to share its views on 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,” he said in a release issued by the APEC Secretariat that was received here on Saturday.
Noting the severe impact of the pandemic on businesses and industries such as tourism, Minister O’Connor cited 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, which aims to advance practical ideas in managing the unprecedented health and economic crises, boosting economic activity, and helping businesses in the region.
“The pandemic must remain our highest priority,” said Rachel Taulelei, 2021 chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in her opening remarks at the dialogue.
“We must ensure that trade plays a role in combating the worst, continuing effects of Covid-19 through open and unrestricted trade in vaccines, essential medical supplies and associated products,” she said.
Reiterating the importance of supporting the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the critical role it has to play in economic recovery, Taulelei said it will be 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 this year is “People, Place and Prosperity”, which puts emphasis on the inclusion of all the people in the region, safeguarding the planet, and ensuring regional prosperity through building a seamless Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), she said.
Taulelei said 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 Rebecca Sta Maria, executive director of the APEC Secretariat.
During Friday’s dialogue, APEC ministers and ABAC members exchanged views on regional economic integration and 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 maintaining open supply chains and ensuring free flow of essential goods and vaccines, as well as what trade as well as digital trade facilitation can do to boost recovery.
Ways to prevent future shocks and make economies more resilient to them were also taken up during the discussion, including policies and actions for ensuring 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. We are now in the worst of the worst of times … and that does require boldness, ambition, and commitment,” Taulelei said. (Antara)