Chairing Apec in a changed era
Thailand must shepherd grouping through a more inclusive, environmentally aware time
Apec 2022 will not be only about trade investment or market opportunities, but will also extend to Thailand's role as the host country, says the Foreign Ministry's International Economic Affairs department director-general Cherdchai Chaivaivid.
It has adopted the theme of "Open. Connect. Balance" to mark its year as chairman of the grouping, he said.
Speaking to the media after the launch of Apec 2022's logo recently, Mr Cherdchai said Thailand will push the idea that Apec will be "open" to all opportunities, "connected" in every dimension, and "balanced" in all aspects.
He said that since Apec's formation in 1989, the idea of changing "the field of war into the trade war" was still relevant. Many changes have taken place in the world including the shift from bilateral trading to multilateral agreements.
When Thailand was last Apec host in 2003, the government was confident about the economic outlook as the country had recovered from the crisis in 1997 (in the year 2003, the economy expanded well, growing by 6.7%, according to the Bank of Thailand).
Furthermore, Thailand had paid back its IMF debt and there were lots of free trade agreements (FTAs) being made.
"When we were the Apec 2003 host, we did not bring up the FTA up for discussions that much. However, the FTA issue has been raised every time since Apec was founded. Therefore, discussions about multilateral connections in trade investment have never strayed far from Apec concerns," he said.
However, due to disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, this time Apec will not be the same, because many more issues have to be considered.
"Today, digital disruption and climate change are also at the centre of the world's attention." He said the idea of sustainability, innovation and development of digitalisation are also hot topics.
Mr Cherdchai explained the theme of the 2022 summit, "Open. Connect. Balance", in detail.
For "Open", he said that concept would be about facilitating trade and investment. FTAs would be discussed at the summit.
The idea of an FTA in the Asia Pacific region, or FTAAP, had been on the table since 2010. However, the concept had changed much in the past 10 years.
"It is like 10 years ago, the FTA was a 3-star hotel and today it is a 5-star hotel. If we look at the present day, agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have elevated standards compared to a decade ago.
"Furthermore, there are more comments on FTA issues and many countries need to adjust to the new FTA standard.
"Therefore, we want to use Thailand's leadership to talk about FTAs and how to reshape our FTA after this period in which we have all received our Covid-19 jabs," he said.
Furthermore, talk about a Free Trade Area in the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) would be more inclusive today as it would concern itself with marginalisation, farmers, and business owners who suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Connect" would concern connectivity and its recovery, travel and tourism and how to make life easier for those who are in the Asia Pacific region to travel, including in the Covid era. Proposals to integrate Covid-19 certificates would be put on the agenda.
Lastly, the idea of "Balance" was about how to be considerate to the environment. He said the key to the "balance" concept was "responsibility", and it would be that keyword which he wanted Thailand to push at the summit.
"Responsibility is the only word that comes to mind. You cannot have a sustainable society or green society if you invest but you still emit greenhouse gas or destroy the forests.
"From now on, when you want to invest, you have to plant trees and you can no longer emit carbon monoxide. At the same time, you have to employ those who are marginalised," he said.
He said that during the summit, a document consisting of 5–10 proclamations will be provided to each country's leader and this reflected the fact that Apec is an economic region that has a responsibility to do business and undertake investment in which the environment, sustainability and social inclusivity are paramount concerns.