Finance ministers and business leaders from the 21 APEC member economies convened virtually on Friday to discuss the ongoing responses for businesses, especially micro, small and medium enterprises, during the pandemic, as well as the policies the economies can focus on to help businesses recover.
New Zealand Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson hosted the Informal Finance Ministerial Meeting with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in a bid to intensify exchanges of views and experiences on the best practices for helping businesses survive the health and economic crisis.
In his opening remarks, Robertson, who is also the 2021 Chair of the APEC Finance Ministers' Process, said that the informal dialogue enabled a deeper understanding of the concerns the private sector has within the APEC region. These engagements inform the policy discussions that APEC Finance Ministers will have at their meeting later in October.
"The Finance Ministers' Process this year is focusing on the macroeconomic responses to COVID and a longer-term look at how fiscal policy and budget frameworks may evolve as a result of the pandemic," Robertson said.
"Partnerships between governments, businesses and civil societies are critical to the region's response to COVID-19 and will continue to play an important role in the longer-term recovery."
Ongoing challenges such as social inequality arising from rapid evolution of technology, accelerating climate change and growing inequality in income and wealth distribution remain a focus for APEC economies, especially given the uneven impact of COVID-19.
Discussions have covered the importance of addressing these issues and the range of policy tools being used to support communities.
These measures include assistance to preserve jobs and livelihoods, fiscal and monetary stimulus to support businesses, open borders for trade, especially for essential medicines, equipment and services and resistance to protectionist restrictions.
At the dialogue, ministers and business leaders shared their views on the most important and impactful policies that economies should focus on to aid businesses in the recovery.
Robertson reiterated that fiscal and monetary policy must continue to play a role in combatting the impacts of the pandemic, but it is also clear that stimulus alone is not sufficient.
"The pandemic has enforced a need for complementary macroeconomic and structural policy," he said.
Business leaders emphasized the importance of trade and open markets in spreading the availability of vaccines, essential health supplies and associated goods and services and keeping global supply chains moving.
"It is clear for us that addressing the continuing pandemic must be the top priority for APEC economies, overcoming the health crisis and using widespread vaccination and testing for safe and seamless reopening of borders as a pre-requisite for economic recovery," explained Rachel Taulelei, 2021 Chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council.
"Trade is an enabler of a return to sustainable economic growth in the region," Taulelei added.
Ministers and business leaders also discussed the importance of the region's recovery being sustainable and inclusive, and how economies and businesses can work together to achieve this goal.
"Sustainability and inclusion are ongoing challenges, which need a stepped-up response in a region that needs to learn to live with COVID," Taulelei highlighted. She emphasized that actions to address climate change and other environmental risks are necessary for a healthy planet, and eventually healthy economies and societies.
"Some people have already paid too high a price during the pandemic, including women, youth, Indigenous people, those living in rural areas and those without the skills required for an increasingly digital economy," she added. "Their well-being needs to be a priority as we move forward."
APEC Secretariat Executive Director Dr. Rebecca Sta Maria acknowledged member economies' commitment to increasing cooperation the past year, and reminded ministers that the unprecedented crisis needs holistic, bold and practical responses.
"In addition to international cooperation and coordination, cross-functional and interagency linkages are as crucial as member economies pursue long-term, sustainable solutions to economic resiliency and recovery," Dr. Sta Maria concluded. Enditem