Officials from the 21 APEC economies began their final round of policy deliberations for 2020 this Friday. The concluding senior officials’ meeting, organized by Malaysia, was convened in a virtual space to ensure that APEC work in advancing regional economic integration, as well as fostering sustainability, inclusive growth and resilience, continues even as the COVID-19 pandemic restricts cross-border travel.
These proceedings kick off the most crucial week of APEC 2020 which will culminate in the first online meeting of APEC Leaders which will be held next Friday and will be chaired by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. The outcomes are expected to direct policy direction towards the end of a year of what the Chair of APEC Senior Officials, Hairil Yahri Yaacob, called “significant challenges.”
“Just as things started to pick up, we were hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which almost immediately halted all our meetings, disrupted our plans,” Hairil said. “These developments prompted us to spring into action and swiftly respond to the crisis at hand. We strategized, moved ahead with renewed vigor.”
Under the theme Optimising Human Potential towards a Resilient Future of Shared Prosperity. Pivot. Prioritise. Progress, the APEC forum’s work necessarily zeroed in on the economic and social ailments caused by COVID-19. Considering that they collectively account for 40 percent of the population, half of global trade and 60 per cent of world GDP, the policies adopted collectively by APEC economies will advance the global fight against the pandemic.
The chair recognized the untiring efforts and high-level dedication of senior officials in advancing work in 2020.
“I’m proud to announce that we have successfully organized six sectoral ministerial meetings, namely trade, health, finance, women, SMEs and food security, which led to the issuance of seven ministerial statements,” he said. “This is truly a remarkable feat, especially given the fact that almost three months of our hosting year was lost due to the pandemic.”
The list of outcomes of senior officials’ work over the past months include a declaration facilitating the movement of essential goods, such as medicine and medical equipment and a proposal to review measures facilitating the movement of people amid travel restrictions among others.
Hairil emphasized that one of the most prominent outcomes of the year will be APEC’s post-vision for the future. As this year marks the time for APEC to assess its progress in pursuit of the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region, senior officials have been exploring the development of new vision to present to ministers and leaders over the coming days.
“This year is truly a turning point for APEC as well as the rest of the world,” said Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, which supports the policymaking process for APEC’s membership. “We have faced economic uncertainty and other challenges that threaten the prosperity and well-being in the region before, but nothing like the thereat of the pandemic.”
“It currently dominates our life, economic activity and policy decisions,” she said. “It is important to make sure we learn from this and emerge better and more resilient.”
The work of senior officials will be elevated to the Virtual APEC Ministers’ Meeting on Monday, 16 November. On Thursday, 19 November, leaders, policy makers and the region’s movers and shakers of business will engage each other in the APEC CEO Dialogues, Malaysia, after which leaders will meet on Friday, 20 November, to set the tone for the region’s collective response to the COVID-19 era.