Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told chief executives and leaders from around the Asia Pacific that collaboration, not protectionism, will aid the region’s economic recovery from COVID.
From Auckland on Friday, Ms Ardern co-hosted the final session for the CEO Dialogue with Microsoft President Brad Smith.
APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) involves 21 member economies and focuses on economic growth and reducing barriers to trade.
The CEO Dialogue event was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, and ran over 25 hours.
Interviewed by Microsoft President Brad Smith, the prime minister said that working together would help economies recover from COVID-19, the economic fallout from which was forecast to get worse.
“The world economy is projected to shrink by 4.5% this year, barely recovering to 2019 levels next year. For the first time in decades, we are seeing major setbacks in the fight against poverty, with 90 million people worldwide projected to fall below the poverty line.
"In these circumstances, when we later tonight, all APEC leaders will be focused on having a plan for two things," Ms Ardern said, referencing the APEC Leaders’ Meeting happening overnight Friday.
“First, the health response to the pandemic. Getting the virus under control is critical to allowing economies to re-open.
“Second, driving the economic recovery and building back better. Choices now about how to recover from crisis will be critical to our well-being in the decade to come.”
Growing together in APEC is a virtual part of that plan, Ms Ardern said.
At the Leaders’ Meeting the 21 economies will seek to implement the new vision being developed during Malaysia's host year, which Ms Ardern urged all economies to back.
This vision is expected to be the successor to the Bogor Goals from 1994.
“While I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of our meeting later tonight, I hope APEC leaders will agree a new vision for the Asia-Pacific to guide our work for the next 20 years, focusing on three engines of economic growth – trade, digital innovation, and sustainability and inclusion,” Ms Ardern said.
“As we confront this generation’s biggest economic challenge, we must not repeat the mistakes of history by retreating into protectionism. APEC must continue to commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing...
“We must continue to ensure a level playing field and predictable rules on our exporters in the region but also internationally.
“As Brad knows better than anyone, economies that successfully embrace digital technology and innovation will be those that succeed in the 21st century."
Ms Ardern said all economies need to make “the right choices” to ensure their people can connect, that they have the skills to succeed in a digital world, and that economies have the right frameworks in place to support trade and competition.
“As we look to build back better from COVID, this is a huge area of focus for New Zealand. This year, for instance, we created a Digital Economy Partnership Agreement with Chile and Singapore to help our exporters and SMEs take advantage of opportunities from digital trade.
“We are committed to making New Zealand a truly digital nation.”
Ms Ardern said if APEC economies are to continue to grow in the long term, its members must ensure growth is sustainable and inclusive.
“As we look to build back better from the COVID crisis, most of us around the region are making the choice to invest in infrastructure that will both grow jobs, but also put us track for de-carbonisation...
“And on the trade front, we are engaged in negotiations towards an Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability. This world-leading initiative aims to address a range of trade-related issues that have the potential to contribute meaningfully to addressing climate change and other serious environmental issues.
“We also know the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. So we are focusing on ensuring our recovery is inclusive by getting those people back into work quickly. And not just any work, but decent, meaningful work.”
Ms Ardern said New Zealand would ask three things of the 21 economies for its host year:
To join together, to reignite growth and plan for a long-lasting economic recovery.
To work together, to show leadership and innovation, to work for the collective good.
To grow together, to foster prosperity and well-being that is sustainable, inclusive and digitally enabled.
“These are challenging times, but these times also offer a significant opportunity to do things differently, APEC included.”