Looking ahead toward Apec 2022
As the new year begins, it is high time to look back at the past year's achievements and, at the same time, to look ahead towards the next. If the Covid-19 pandemic which began in late 2019 and early 2020 took the world by surprise, and 2021 proved to be another year of daunting challenges, 2022 could see countries around the world continue to struggle, trying to open despite the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus, like the current Omicron.
The difference is that in 2022, for better of for worse, the world has become more accustomed to Covid-19. Here in Thailand, in dealing with the fifth wave of infections this month, we are using well-crafted practical and meaningful responses which we have learned over the past two years.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) may be the right forum to replicate such effective responses. After all, its members comprise 38% of the global population, and about 60% of the world's gross domestic product (GDP). But what is in store for over a third of the world's population outside the grouping?
And since receiving the symbolic waka paddle in November from the group's 2021 chair New Zealand, what has been going on at the start of Thailand's chairmanship?
For starters, in December last year, Thailand's duties began with hosting an Informal Senior Officials Meeting (Isom) in Phuket, in which the host's priorities were outlined in a virtual briefing titled "Responding to the Crisis and Returning the Apec Region to Growth".
At the virtual briefing, which was attended by diplomats, trade officials and media representatives based in Singapore, Wellington and Bangkok, then-Apec Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) Chair Vangelis Vitalis made the group's objective clear --to respond with practical action, "response, not rhetoric", and to position the region for recovery.
One such practical action was to lower tariffs on pandemic-related necessities and/or items that we use on a daily basis, which New Zealand spearheaded through eliminating its own tariffs for soaps (5%), vaccines (6%) and syringes (21%) and duly encouraged the global community to do so.
At the aforementioned Isom in Phuket, Thailand's Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Thani Thongphakdi, the new Apec Som Chair, introduced the priorities and key deliverables to lay the groundwork for Apec throughout this year, through the theme "Open, Connect, Balance" -- which embraces the bio-circular-green, or BCG, economic model as the overarching thinking.
The core concept is to promote a balanced and sustainable growth, shifting from profit maximisation to sustainable business models. Thailand sees the need to adopt a future growth model that creates a paradigm shift and addresses the inherent inequalities that render global economies vulnerable.
Thailand proposed to initiate a fresh conversation on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) post-Covid-19, in line with the recent entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and focusing on supply chains that need to be made more resilient and inclusive, as well as sustainable development.
As connectivity disruption remains one of the pressing issues today, it is time to work on safe passage and investment in health security. Travellers stand to benefit from the discussions planned to broaden the Apec Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme, along with other innovative schemes to facilitate mobility.
Throughout this year, the Foreign Ministry will also work through the Apec National Public Relations Sub-committee to promote awareness of the host year.
Government agencies which are responsible for finance, commerce, environment, food security and tourism will be holding ministerial-level meetings while other sectors will host senior-level meetings. The Apec Business Advisory Council (Abac) will play a crucial role and work with the government sector under the theme "Embrace-Engage-Enable".
There will also be collaboration with individual companies on awareness-building and knowledge-sharing. Around 30 businesses will be Apec's communication partners, which will support the publication of the logo in media and promote other related contents.
This will be a good opportunity to demonstrate the potential of Thai businesses, as well as our commitment to supporting a BCG economy.
Siam Piwat, for example, has set up exhibits in malls to build BCG awareness among the public. SCG has produced recycled products and installations for Apec awareness-building. ThaiBev and Agoda are supporting brand recognition. Most partners produce annual company sustainability reports and are committed to responsible business practices and clean energy use.
Importantly, partners like Bangchak, WHA, Amata, KBank, Grab, Zipmex, BGrimm, Coca-Cola, Central Group, Lazada, MQDC, PTT, Stock Exchange of Thailand among others, share the same values as Apec.
Apec's host nation is given an opportunity to craft practical, meaningful responses to address global challenges. For Thailand to fulfil its foreign policy objective, we will need the support of all Apec members, their business sectors, and people.
The Thai saying of "across the ocean, united as one", encapsulates the common commitment throughout this host year. The voices of Apec will be heard and aspirations of a stronger and more resilient global economy are waiting to be fulfilled.
We begin the year by looking ahead to Apec 2022, towards long-term growth that is resilient, inclusive and sustainable.
Natapanu Nopakun is Deputy Director-General, Department of Information and Deputy Spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.
- Apec 2022