Serving as this year’s APEC Chair, the Philippines organized the Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM) last December 8-9, 2014. During the meeting, member economies discussed APEC priorities for the coming year. Among the items included in the agenda were economic integration, disaster preparedness and management, and trade and investment goals.
Technological breakthroughs, the rise of pandemics, and the effects of natural calamities also took center stage during the meeting. These issues were identified as hurdles not only to the APEC member economies, but also to their citizens.
In a briefing with the media, Undersecretary Laura Del Rosario, Chair of the Senior Officials’ Meeting, pointed out that all these concerns boil down to the importance of investing in human capital development, a priority area for APEC. In her words: “For all our plans and dreams and aspirations, the bottom line really is enhancing capacity building measures… We have to train our people properly and we have to educate our people well.” As such, APEC aims to foster inclusive economic growth and address income inequality.
One concrete example of this is the APEC Scholarship Initiative introduced by the United States, which will offer scholarship, training, and internship opportunities to students from APEC member economies. The scheme aims to have one million intra-APEC university-level students per year by 2020. By increasing interaction among member economies, the initiative hopes to foster the expansion of people-to-people exchanges, the strengthening of regional ties, and the sharing of knowledge and skill sets.
Del Rosario also highlighted the importance of reforms in the education sector, such as—in the Philippines—the implementation of the K-12 program and the integration of technical vocation subjects. Since these would provide students with additional skills, the local labor force would be more competitive and at par with other member economies. Recognizing that technology is the main engine for growth, she also spoke about the need to improve science and technology courses and to encourage more students to enroll in that field.
All this is essential to the advancement of the APEC region. Concrete steps toward these and other goals will be further discussed during the next APEC meeting,which will be held in Clark, Pampanga next year.