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Thai Apec 2022: The ‘nuts and bolts’ of recovery

May 2022 marks a major step in Thailand’s transition towards the new normal with the country’s much-anticipated decision to significantly ease entry requirements for travellers from all corners of the globe. The adjustment coincides with Apec’s Second Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM2) and related meetings currently taking place in Bangkok from May 9-19, in the lead up to the Apec Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting on May 21-22. This month, Thailand will therefore play host to over 250 Apec delegates attending numerous meetings in person — a fact not to be understated — with 200 others participating online.

As Thailand makes concrete inroads on its “living with Covid-19” policy, the Apec SOM2 represents sustained efforts to operationalise the “Open. Connect. Balance.” theme. We are all here with the mission to jumpstart economic recovery and leapfrog Apec member economies towards even more inclusive, dynamic and sustainable growth — one that enables a smart and efficient response to new challenges and opportunities on the horizon.

In more specific terms, SOM2 has focused its attention for 11 days on three strategic areas of priority and key deliverables.

The first is of particular significance to Thailand, as we see it as high time for new thinking and fresh ideas to reinvigorate the conversation on the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. We want to establish a framework for a more resilient, more inclusive and nimbler trade and investment regime in Apec. In this light, SOM2 is laying the necessary groundwork for further discussion in the Apec Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting and Dialogue with the Apec Business Advisory Council (ABAC) on May 21-22 in Bangkok. A successful MRT will contribute to meaningful outcomes at the upcoming 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) in July.

The second critical “nut and bolt” is global travel, a key economic driver within the Apec region, which has gladly begun to pick up pace. Safe and seamless reconnections of people-to-people and business-to-business contacts, therefore, remain high on the list of priorities for Thailand. To this end, the Apec Safe Passage Taskforce is proposing measures such as a one-stop information portal summarising border control measures implemented by member economies and interoperability of vaccination verification systems. The taskforce has also been hard at work on generating proposals to widen the eligibility criteria for Apec Business Travel Card (ABTC) holders to include MSMEs and mid-level professionals and managers. The taskforce aims to finalise these proposals by SOM2. Once approved, they will represent a slew of actionable ideas that may be operationalised as early as August this year.

Third, the global community has been trying to achieve an equilibrium between pursuing continued economic growth and achieving sustainability in all forms. Thailand, as host of Apec Safe Passage Taskforce 2022, has proposed a tool to help achieve that equilibrium. The Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy Model advances sustainability of biological resources, fortifies communities and grassroots economy, increases the competitiveness of industries in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, and is symbiotic to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Thailand hosted a Dedicated Session at SOM2 to deliberate on proposed goals and enablers on issues such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable trade and investment, and sustainable management of resources. The outcome of these deliberations will culminate in the “Bangkok Goals on BCG Economy”, a stand-alone leaders’ document set to be endorsed at the Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Bangkok in November.

SOM2 represents a halfway milestone of Apec Thailand 2022. It is a time to take stock of Apec achievements. It is also, however, a time for Apec member economies to collectively ponder the best response to fresh challenges facing the Apec region, including rising food and energy prices and supply chain disruptions. The strategic thrust behind these meetings is to drive forward post-Covid recovery through open and dynamic trade and investment, safe and seamless cross-border travel, physical and digital connectivity, and sustainable economic growth based on the BCG Economy model. We are building resilience against external shocks and disruptions to the Apec region and the key outcomes and deliverables of Apec 2022 will be a lasting legacy for the more than 2.9 billion people in the Apec region and future generations.

Thani Thongphakdi is Chair of APEC 2022 SOM.