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Engaging Key Stakeholders on APEC 2022

By Tanee Sangrat, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

          On 31 January 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand joined hands with the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) to co-host a panel discussion on “Driving Post-COVID Economic Recovery as APEC Host in 2022.” The event was held in-person and online, and in true FCCT form, the FCCT President, Mr. Panu Wongcha-um, deftly directed conversational traffic that evening, informed also by his very own behind-the-scenes experience during Thailand’s last hosting of APEC 2003.

          The main aim of the event was to engage foreign media based in Thailand as one of the key stakeholders of Thailand’s APEC host year 2022, as well as the diplomatic corps, business partners and related government agencies in what will prove to be a unique year with Thailand at the helm leading APEC economies towards recovery. So one very important task for this event and future events like this, was to spark and carry on a meaningful conversation around that gargantuan task that Thailand had assumed. Achieving one’s aims after all, must depend on communicating them correctly.

          Mr. Cherdchai Chaivaivid, Director-General of the Department of International Economic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and APEC Senior Official of Thailand, started the conversation by setting the stage. He outlined APEC’s visions and goals, taking us from the Bogor Goals focused on facilitating trade and investment, to advancing the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) agenda, to the Putrajaya Vision 2040, and the Aotearoa Plan of Action. He drew attention to the notable fact that along this journey, APEC had grown from a forum that focused on trade and investment, to include adaptations towards new emerging issues for inclusiveness and sustainability. Hot issues, such as climate change and digitalisation, had become part of the APEC discourse of our time.

          Thailand, as APEC host economy in 2022, was therefore seeking to enhance this conversation and concretise it, in order to achieve a consolidated strategy for post COVID economic recovery and inclusive and sustainable growth. In fact, Thailand is going to leverage its economic diplomacy to address economic fragmentation and empower all stakeholders to actively drive the region’s economic rebound.

          Under Thailand’s host year theme “Open. Connect. Balance.” Thailand is going to highlight a Bio-Circular-Green or BCG narrative in APEC’s discourse to promote issues such as creating value from renewable resources, redesigning our economy so waste from one industry becomes material for another, and making our way of life and businesses more environmentally and economically sound. The key foundation in all of this being, to advance sustainability, in a manner that will ensure our resilience to current and future shocks.

​          The FCCT conversation then proceeded with Ms. Chanunya Bandhukul, Executive Director, Bureau of America, Pacific Affairs and International Organisations, Ministry of Commerce. Based firmly in APEC’s unwavering support for rules-based multilateralism, she presented the argument for the need to review how regional economic integration could be reshaped under a new paradigm post-COVID. In her view, this would mean that the conversation on FTAAP would need to be refreshed, to open up new perspectives on how FTAAP would fit into and could advance APEC economies beyond COVID. She placed a special emphasis on empowering MSMEs by promoting e-commerce and further integrating them into the global supply chain. Thailand is encouraging MSMEs to adapt their businesses to the BCG model and will host a symposium on this topic in May. APEC economies need to get the ball rolling, and in a big way.

          Without skipping a beat, Mr. Kasemsit Pathomsak, member of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), shared with the audience that the Thai members of ABAC also saw BCG as the way forward to balance economic development with environmental conservation. Under ABAC’s theme for APEC 2022 – “Embrace. Engage. Enable.” – ABAC members were ready to embrace eco-friendly concepts like BCG and net-zero development, to engage key industries and local communities, and to enable them to upgrade themselves by improving on local know-how and local products. Ms. Achiraya Thamparipattra, CEO and co-founder of Hivesters, an MSME carving out its unique space in the tourism industry, then shared her experience in adapting to the COVID situation. An important key in her journey and survival instincts, was market diversification and the search for new pathways. She has high expectations for APEC 2022 to revive international connectivity and safe international travel. In fact, she is counting on it while consolidating lessons learned to strengthen her business for the future. One of the most important lessons being that, after suffering through two years of a pandemic, people are looking for a deeper connection – for the tourism industry, that means finding a way for them to “connect with the destination, culture and local people”.

          The questions posed in the last session of the event brought together all of these perspectives to reflect on a wide range of scenarios. This was and will continue to be, truly, where the conversation deepens, into one that will ultimately help to sharpen the tools, approaches and directions taken this year. Ranging from whether the Omicron and future COVID variants had the capacity to scuttle progress in advancing APEC’s objectives, to whether US-China tensions would cast a shadow over concrete progress, to whether and how sectors planned to address Thailand’s over-reliance on tourism, to how the youth – a dynamic stakeholder – would be engaged in all of these conversations. The readiness of the media to engage was impressive, and we are only at the starting line.

          ​As member economies work their way towards the APEC Economic Leaders’ Week in November, we must and will continue to engage with the media, to communicate and discuss in greater depth issues of importance to APEC in 2022. In fact, we plan to host a number of “APEC Media Focus Groups” that would allow us to sink our teeth into the specifics of advancing priorities like “Safe passage,” start-ups, a BCG roadmap and relevant technology and innovation, sustainability and women and youth. There is much to cover during one host year of this important forum and we look forward to seeing every stakeholder along the way.