In conjunction with the Philippines’ APEC 2015 hosting, an Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM) was held in Makati City from December 8-9, 2014. Nearly 20 years since the country last hosted APEC, member economies gathered during ISOM to set the priorities for the coming year. The economic agenda discussed mainly revolved around enhancing regional economic integration and fostering small and medium-sized enterprises’ (SMEs’) participation in the regional and global economy.
The specific action points related to facilitating economic integration include conducting a collective strategic study on Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Involving all member economies, the study will serve as an avenue for members to share their experiences with FTAs. APEC also plans to establish a new technical capacity-building initiative in pursuit of the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).
In addition, APEC aims to achieve a 10% increase in the region’s chain supply performance by 2015 and to reduce customs-related bottlenecks. In the Philippines, the Bureau of Customs is considering setting up a green lane for products with only 1% tariff, to facilitate ease of entry.
In terms of fostering SMEs’ participation in the regional and global economy, member economies have agreed to provide significant support to SMEs in order to help them be more competitive. Efforts will focus on promoting SME sector modernization, standards conformance, commercial innovation, global production chain integration, and increased value-added trade.
Regarding ease of doing business, APEC intends to pursue a 25% improvement in these priority areas by 2015: starting a business, getting credit, dealing with permits, enforcing contracts, and trading across borders. In the Philippines’ case, the Department of Finance and Department of Trade and Industry are already looking at making capital more accessible to SMEs.
In a press briefing, Undersecretary Laura Del Rosario, Chair of the Senior Officials’ Meeting, constantly reiterated the importance of science and technology—not just in terms of new challenges that member economies have to face, but also in terms of possible solutions to these issues. She mentioned examples, such as taking advantage of the internet through e-commerce and using technology to fight smuggling by monitoring the movement of goods.
“In APEC, technology is the engine for growth,” Undersecretary Del Rosario said. “[It] has changed a lot the way things are being done, the way businesses are being run—and this is what APEC is looking at, what is ahead of us.”