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ABAC 2 focused on supporting the COVID response

NZ Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor, second from left, attending the ABAC 2 meeting hosted virtually from Wellington today.

Representatives from across the Asia-Pacific’s business community met on Tuesday to begin mapping out recommendations to the region’s leaders and ministers.

They met as part of ABAC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council. The council meets four times a year and is the business voice and private-sector arm of APEC. Through ABAC representatives can give advice to senior officials, ministers and APEC leaders.

This meeting, known as ABAC 2, is the second of the year.  More than 100 people attended the three-hour meeting.

Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor addressed the forum, and its representatives, who included representatives from micro, small and medium enterprises, through to multinationals.

“We want to hear advice from business on how the region can tackle three shared challenges the region is facing in responding to COVID-19,” Minister O’Connor said at the meeting.

“Firstly, how to ensure APEC supports a response to the public health emergency, and helps get our people vaccinated, faster.  How we keep supply chains open for essential goods and vaccines.

“How we can and should reject vaccine nationalism, which will damage every one of our economies. How we can resume safe cross-border travel which supports our social and economic connections, while limiting the spread of the virus,” he said.

“Secondly, how we can ensure the region upholds a fair, open, transparent and predictable trade and investment environment.

“New Zealand’s WTO priorities are well-known – including our work on agriculture, fisheries subsidies, fossil fuel subsidies, WTO reform, e-commerce, environmental goods and services.  We want to hear from business where APEC can have the biggest influence on this global forum.

“Thirdly, we will need to consider how we build a more resilient region from this crisis. How we make our recovery sustainable; and ensure that all sectors of our community – including women, small businesses, and indigenous communities – understand and are included in the benefits of trade,” Minister O’Connor said. 

A key focus of the meeting was to prepare for ABAC-Ministers Responsible for Trade Dialogue on the 4 June. The dialogue has been designed to allow an exchange between business leaders and all 21 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade about how best to support the recovery from COVID.

Earlier this year, ABAC chair Rachel Taulelei said the region needed cohesive, coordinated thinking to aid that recovery.

“We are living through the crisis of a century and strength comes from our determination to work together.

“Overcoming the current adversity, whether restoring public health, reopening borders, securing economic recovery or achieving more equitable communities, demands constructive, creative and above all collaborative approaches,” Ms Taulelei added.

APEC’s leaders formed ABAC in 1995 to provide advice from the business community around the region relevant to APEC’s work. Among ABAC's most tangible successes is a Business Travel Card, making it easier for business people to travel around the region.

ABAC’s spotlight will also fall on indigenous economies within APEC and how to empower them for success. Ms Taulelei said it was vital APEC and ABAC engage with indigenous economies, pointing to the Māori economy, which a report from the Reserve Bank and BERL says is worth $68.7 billion to New Zealand, as an example of success.