Dodwell's Closing blog on ABAC2 Mexico

April 27, 2015

It does not matter where you are in the APEC region, the word of the moment is “inclusive”. And maybe “sustainable” runs it a not-very-close second.
For the past four days as business leaders in the APEC Business Advisory Council have met in sun-scorched Mexico City to prepare business-sector recommendations for APEC leaders who will meet later in the year in Manila, “inclusiveness” was laced into the agenda of every meeting.
Not everyone agrees what inclusiveness means, but don’t let that bother us. For most, it involves policies to help SMEs and start ups survive their early years, and to win better access to opportunities in international markets.
The “inclusive” agenda ,might be expected from this year’s APEC Chair, the Philippines, because like most of the region’s developing economies, their companies have often found it hard to get into international markets, and have resented the growing impact of efficient and powerful multinationals.
But concern over “inclusiveness” is more widespread than APEC’s developing economies. Data worldwide has shown that most of the benefits of the growth of the past two decades have gone to a tiny elite section of our communities, and that most ordinary families are struggling as hard today as they were 20 years ago. This concern has been compounded by the faltering recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, where the pain of contraction or slowed growth has been felt disproportionately by the poor and middle classes.
Where attention in Mexico City has lifted away from inclusiveness, it has focused on “pathways to the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific” or FTAAP: or is it the Free Trade Arrangement, or Agreement – I never can very clearly remember? For more than a decade the business leaders in ABAC have pressured APEC leaders to take seriously the ambitious aim of a free trade area embracing all 21 of the APEC economies. At first, the idea was ridiculed as the stuff of dreams. But today, it actually seems possible that an FTAAP might be edging up over the horizon. At present China and the US are leading a “collective strategic study” to explore how an FTAAP might work, and they are due to report back to us all by the end of next year.
Over the past year, the main obstacle to progress towards FTAAP has been the US concern to see the 12-economy Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) completed. Progress has faltered alarmingly since the end of 2013, as the US and Japan arm-wrestle over liberalization on cars and rice, and as US promises have rung hollow while President Obama has lacked negotiating authority that has to be agreed by Congress. So there were cheers around the room in Mexico City when we learned that Congress has at last begun to budge, and is now expected to give Obama the authority he needs by May 22, when they break for Memorial Day.
Since the crash in the global economy in 2008, one of ABAC’s main concerns has been the danger of protectionist backsliding, and things like the TPP and FTAAP have been invaluable, however slow the progress, they have kept protectionist lobbies at bay.
As ABAC members now disperse back to their home economies, much hard “interesessional” work must continue. Important meetings on developing human resources and improving labour mobility are to be held in Papua New Guinea in a week’s time – the first time any APEC meeting has been held in PNG to my best knowledge, and a first tentative step towards chairing APEC in 2018. Then the APEC Senior Official “roadshow” – a cluster of 40 or more meetings in the white-sand Philippine resort of Boracay -  begin in two weeks.
Read more :
ABAC Calls for Access for All to Business Opportunities [ Back ]