Looking ahead to APEC2022: Long-term growth that is resilient, inclusive and sustainable

 Natapanu Nopakun

Deputy Director-General,

Department of Information and Deputy Spokesperson,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand

As the new year begins, it is high time to look back at the year’s achievements and, at the same time, to look ahead towards the next. If the outbreak of the pandemic in late 2019 and early 2020 took the world by surprise, and 2021 continued to be another year of daunting challenges, the year ahead could see countries around the world continue to struggle, in sort of the opening-up-versus-Omicron context. 


The difference of 2022 is that it will be the year that the world has, for better or worse, been more accustomed to COVID-19 through numerous waves, variants, and numbers of positive cases and fatalities. Here in Thailand, we are about to face the fifth wave this month of January. The global economy obviously needs rescue this year, and it may be only after two years of a global pandemic are we given an opportunity to craft practical, meaningful responses. 


The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) may well be the forum for such effective responses. After all, its member economies comprise 38% of the world’s population and 60% of the world’s GDP. 


But what is in store for more than a third of the world’s population, and more than half of the global economy, through APEC? After Thailand received the symbolic “Waka” paddle, a symbol of New Zealand’s Māori tribe long-term unity relations in building the Waka or canoe boat, on 12 November from APEC2021 host economy New Zealand, what has been going on to jump start Thailand’s host year, to continue driving post-COVID-19 economic recovery and maintaining economic stimulus by facilitating free and open trade and investment, adherence to rules-based multilateral trading system, and encouraging regional economic integration ?           


For starters, last month in December 2021, Thailand began the host duties with an Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM) in Phuket, as well as outlined host year priorities at the Virtual Briefing after the APEC Leaders Week 2021, under the theme “Responding to the Crisis and Returning the APEC Region to Growth”.  


At the Virtual Briefing attended by diplomats, trade officials and media based in Singapore, Wellington and Bangkok, the then APEC SOM Chair from New Zealand, Vangelis Vitalis, said at the outset that the context at the start of the New Zealand host year was one of human catastrophe. Despite the grim global situation, New Zealand made her objectives clear—to respond with practical action, “response, not rhetoric”, and to position the region for recovery. A very practical action was to lower tariffs on pandemic-related items or what 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. 


During New Zealand’s host year in 2021, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) agenda was also pushed forward in line with other recently positive developments, such as the entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest trade deal, at the beginning of the year to provide boost to regional trade and business ties, while reducing costs for production and exports of goods and services. 


At the ISOM in Phuket, Thailand’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs Thani Thongphakdi, APEC SOM Chair, introduced the priorities and key deliverables to lay the groundwork for APEC throughout this year. In charting a post-COVID19 future for the Asia-Pacific region, and to promote long-term growth that is resilient, inclusive, balanced and sustainable, through the theme “Open. Connect. Balance.”, embracing the bio-circular-green, or BCG, economy as the overarching thinking behind Thailand’s host year. The core concept of the BCG economy is to promote a balanced and sustainable growth, shifting from profit maximization to sustainable business models. Thailand sees the need to adopt a future growth model that creates a paradigm shift and addresses the inherent inequalities and imbalances that render global economies vulnerable. 


The approach to trade and investment needs a rethink, and both have always been the core objectives and mission of APEC. Thailand proposed to initiate a refreshed conversation on FTAAP post-COVID-19, focusing on supply chains that need to be resilient, on current trade-related issues, and on inclusive and sustainable development. Very important in this day and age is deepening regional economic integration.  


The achievements of the New Zealand host year have been aplenty, and focused on important issues, such as on society engagement in economic growth, building partnership and encouraging its roles on local tourism and impacts from economic conditions, income, and local employment. Thailand will move forward all these issues while leading APEC to reconnect member economies physically and digitally. Connectivity disruption remains one of the pressing unresolved issues today, and it is prime time to work in resuming safe and seamless cross-border travel, reinvigorating tourism and the services sector, facilitating greater business mobility, as well as increasing investment in health security. 


Thailand will further APEC’s work on safe passage to facilitate movement of people across borders, starting with essential workers, air and maritime crew. There would be an opportunity for APEC to discuss travel protocol based on existing international standards and practices. As host economy for 2022, Thailand aims to work towards enhancing interoperability, consider mutual recognition of vaccine certificates developed by APEC economies, and provide a platform for exchanging relevant information and best practices. 


There will also be important conversations to put forth initiatives that will be of practical benefit. For example, travelers stand to markedly benefit from the discussions planned to broaden the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme, along with the exploration of other innovative schemes to facilitate mobility for broader range of business people and professionals to travel across APEC economies. 


APEC SOM Chair Thani also highlighted that the overarching goal is to place APEC on a growth trajectory that promotes balance, sustainability and inclusivity in all aspects. To place APEC on this desired trajectory, Thailand will continue to attach importance to building a green economy, while pushing ahead dialogue on the BCG economy model and the “Balance of Things”. The BCG economy concept is set to open up great opportunities. 


As for young voices, they have always been heard in APEC, including in symposiums and panels held by all past and present host economies. APEC SOM Chair Thani reiterated the importance of reaching out to the youth on issues of the times, like how to grapple with climate change, and that Thailand recognizes how passionate the global youth are with recycling and circular economy.


The benefits of APEC 

As host economy, the people of Thailand would naturally scour through the plans and wonder how this would benefit the common people.  In overview, Thailand would benefit from the potential economic cooperation and the fresh ideas brought forward that would steer the country towards comprehensive and sustainable growth. In at least the last 10 years, Thailand has exchanged knowledge with fellow APEC economies through numerous brainstorming events and hosted over 50 workshops that have taken place under the framework of APEC, in the areas of education, public health, MSMEs, energy, forest, digitalization and agriculture. The knowledge gained will continue to be transformed into development policies to the benefit of the Thai people.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand has also focused on providing the opportunity for the Thai people to be “informed, inspired, integrated, and involved” through the public awareness strategy. This strategy is designed for target audiences in the private sector, particularly MSMEs and start-ups, civil society, youths, elderly, women, and underprivileged groups, as well as audiences in the other 20 APEC economies. 


Partner outreach and communicating APEC 

As with all other international and regional meetings held in Thailand, international media outreach is an important component that has been utilized to produce content focused on the global audiences. Digital media is equally important as it connects people in ways unlike before, or at least as compared to APEC fora in the past before the onset of digitalization. Thailand will use these tools and engage with the wider public through media partners to promote the understanding of APEC values, while building confidence in the Thai economy. 


The communications strategy is being put into action to build awareness before, during, and after APEC meetings, emphasizing on the significance of APEC to the people. APEC Media Focus Group events which are brainstorming fora with local and international media, will be held throughout the year to broaden communication and public relations approaches.


Throughout this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also work with government agencies and state-owned enterprises that are in the APEC National Public Relations Sub-committee to promote the host year. Government agencies that are responsible for areas such as finance, commerce, environment, food security and tourism will be holding ministerial-level APEC meetings while other sectors will host senior-level meetings—-all of which will take part in building awareness and highlighting the benefits of their work to APEC economies. The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) will play a crucial role as the private sector leadership in moving forward the agenda of long-term growth, and will be ready to work in parallel with the government sector under the ABAC theme “Embrace-Engage-Enable”.  


There will also be collaboration with the individual companies on awareness-building and knowledge-sharing. Around 30 businesses will be “APEC2022 Communication Partners” and they will be assisting in diverse ways, such as publicizing the APEC2022 logo in media and PR material, and promoting APEC-related content as well as goods and services.  This will be a good opportunity to demonstrate the potential of Thai businesses, as well as the commitment to supporting a BCG economy.  


Siam Piwat, for example, has set up exhibits in malls to build BCG awareness among the general public. SCG has produced recycled products and installations for use in APEC awareness building. ThaiBev beverage company, Agoda travel reservation site and other companies are supporting APEC brand recognition. Most APEC2022 Communication 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.  


With APEC, the host economy Thailand is given an opportunity to craft practical, meaningful responses to address global economic challenges and needs. The world may, or may not, be at the dawn of a post-COVID-19 era now, but for Thailand to fulfill our foreign policy objective in increasing connectivity under the next normal, supporting innovation and startups, promoting youth participation and strengthening women’s economic empowerment, we will need the strong support of all APEC economies, their business sectors, and the people of APEC. 


“Across the ocean, united as one”, a Thai saying, encapsulates the common determination throughout this APEC host year. The voices of APEC will be heard and the aspirations of a stronger and more resilient global economy are waiting to be fulfilled.  


Looking ahead to APEC2022, towards long-term growth that is resilient, inclusive and sustainable, we begin.