Held from December 8-9, 2014, in Makati City, the APEC Informal Senior Officials’ Meeting (ISOM) marked the inaugural gathering of member economies in conjunction with the Philippines’ role as APEC Chair. During the meeting, leaders discussed various issues including priority focus areas of collaboration over the coming year.
As the APEC 2015 theme—“Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World”—articulates, the Philippines as host seeks to facilitate realistic dialogue toward a more inclusive environment in the Asia-Pacific region. As discussed during ISOM, emphasis will be made on the following priorities: investing in human capital development; fostering SMEs’ participation in the regional and global economy; building sustainable and resilient communities; and enhancing the regional economic integration agenda.
These four priorities are all connected in that they seek sustainable progress for all peoples. As Undersecretary Laura Del Rosario, Chair of the Senior Officials’ Meeting, emphasized during a press briefing, “There are a lot of opportunities coming up because of new processes and technology, but the preparations are not there. It’s knocking on the door but [the people] are not prepared.” In her view, this is precisely why economies must invest in education—to support the intersection of preparation and opportunity.
Investing in Human Capital Development
In the Philippines, educational investment translates to the ongoing transition to K-12 and improved training under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA). Within the APEC community, Del Rosario talked about the “cross-border education of one million APEC citizens” through scholarships. This is aimed at empowering citizens to seize better opportunities for themselves and their communities, and to become “seeds for closer integration” among the member economies.
Fostering SMEs’ Participation in Regional and Global Economy
Regional and global collaboration can also be enhanced through increased SME participation in cross-border transactions. Policies have to be implemented in order to ensure that SMEs are included in economic growth. Another focus area involves reducing the cost of doing business and increasing facilitation. According to Del Rosario, this can be achieved through uniformity and regulation: “We have to do our own regulatory reform together with other economies.”
Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities
With the growth of any economy come questions about its sustainability. This is another aspect of progress of which APEC members are keenly aware. Del Rosario spoke about the “goal of doubling the share of renewable energy” from 2010 to 2030. Alongside this, APEC is also looking at pandemics because they are “also part of the onslaught of nature.” As such, discussions about sustainability and resilience necessarily involve not just disaster management but also health, water, and security issues.
Enhancing the Regional Economic Integration Agenda
From the beginning, APEC has sought not just to strengthen individual economies but also to boost regional collaboration. Among other factors, this involves making financial institutions more accessible and setting them up so that “those who need resources like SMEs can really avail of better terms.”
In the current business atmosphere, sectors are no longer as clearly segmented or delineated as before, in part due to increased collaboration. Del Rosario noted that “the actual aspect of manufacturing is just one phase in the process of the cycle of manufacturing.” With economies no longer strictly defined as either purely manufacturing-based or service-based, pockets of potential collaboration are likely to emerge, thus facilitating economic integration.
At the close of her statement during the press briefing, Del Rosario said, “…for all our plans and dreams and aspirations, the bottom line really is enhancing capacity-building measures.” Despite their various focus areas, the APEC 2015 priorities come together in aid of a common goal—the development of communities and lives for the benefit of all.