APEC third Senior Officials Meeting in Vietnam – Meeting its goals?

APEC is the region’s premier economic forum. Vietnam hosts its third Senior Official Meeting (SOM 3) of 2017 from August 18 to 30.

By John Pennington

Delegates headed to Vietnam for the third Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Senior Official Meeting (SOM) were kept busy. The series of meetings and workshops began on August 18 and will continue until August 30.

Vietnam also hosted the first meeting in February and March and the second in May. The final session will be in November. Then, the APEC Ministerial Meeting and Economic Leaders meetings will close APEC 2017.

SOM 2, held in May, was deemed a success. An APEC press release claimed SOM 2 had, “laid the groundwork for APEC deliverables to be achieved in 2017.” The verdict on how much SOM 3 produced will follow soon.

At SOM 3, a vast range of economic issues was up for discussion and consultation. These included health, customs procedures, anti-terrorism, trade and investment, chemicals, standards and conformance, and services.

There are four priorities for APEC 2017. Vietnam selected these priorities, and the member economies confirmed them at SOM 2. They are: promoting sustainable, innovative and inclusive growth; deepening regional economic integration; strengthening MSME’s (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) competitiveness and innovation in the digital age; and enhancing food security and sustainable agriculture in response to climate change.

APEC SOMs allow countries’ representatives to learn from each other

The APEC SOMs offer opportunities for delegates and ministries to learn from other nations’ experiences. APEC combines knowledge and insight from the 21 members from North America, South America, Asia and Australia. Senior officials guide committees, working groups and task forces to develop recommendations for their ministers and economic leaders.

For example, law-enforcement agencies vowed to strengthen the fight against corruption during an early meeting. Vietnamese officials talked about their experiences of the damaging effects of corruption and money laundering. Peru, meanwhile, has made significant progress in fighting corruption by cooperating on an international level. Their example was held up as a good one to follow.

Russian officials pushed for more action and will take what they learnt back to their own country. “We expect stronger commitment and cooperation among the member economies in the Asia Pacific region to fight corruption,” Denis Kunev, head of the Organisation and Analytics Department at the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, said.

“The meeting provided an opportunity for member economies to speak about challenges faced by law enforcement agencies in fighting money laundering and recovering assets related to corruption cases. It had a lot of useful information on anti-corruption, which we can use for training investigators in Russia.”

The fight against terrorism involves all APEC members

No country can consider itself safe from the threat of terrorism. That was a key message emanating from the latest anti-terrorism meetings.

“At the moment all economies agree that terrorism is an issue, we all agree that if you are looking at what is happening with ISIL in the Middle East, as well as other terrorist groups in Southeast Asia,” James Nachipo, who chairs the Counter Terrorism Working Group, said.

Another message was that more work is required. Nachipo added that the group had looked into ways of countering terrorism finance, as well as stopping or limiting the movement of fighters. A new four-year plan of action will begin next year.

Achieving goals in health also drives APEC

Health has been another major feature of APEC 2017. At SOM 3, health ministers and officials met to discuss capacity building in the healthcare sector to meet increasing demand.

“An investment in health is an investment for development,” Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam said. “Sharing policy successes and failures, and applying lessons learned is critical to moving APEC member economies towards our common goal of a healthy Asia-Pacific.”

Members continue to work towards the APEC “Healthy Asia-Pacific 2020” initiative, which aims to provide safe, effective and affordable healthcare for everybody in the region.

In pursuit of the Bogor goals and APEC’s future

APEC put in place the Bogor goals in 1994 when Indonesia hosted APEC. The target is to achieve free trade among members by 2020. With the deadline fast approaching, delegates are already thinking about what comes next.

“After the 2020 deadline, we’ll have to operate differently, towards different goals and with a different feel,” APEC Secretariat Executive Director Dr Alan Bollard said.

At the conclusion of APEC’s Food Security Week, members adopted three documents related to food security and climate change – all three geared towards meeting the Bogor goals as well as the APEC Food Security Roadmap Towards 2020.

“We’ve managed to do good in the past — free trade has pulled half a billion people in the region out of poverty into middle income. It’s a legacy worth building on,” Bollard added.

APEC has global significance and hosting it is good for Vietnam

APEC represents around 40% of the world’s population, 44% of world trade and more than half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). As the Trans-Pacific Partnership faces an uncertain future, it takes on added significance.

The organisation has been good for the host country as APEC members account for 75% of Vietnam’s trade and investments. Hosting APEC for the second time may also boost the country. After Vietnam first hosted in 2006, there was a massive increase in trade, investment, and tourism.

So far, it looks as if the SOMs have proved productive and fruitful. As ever, turning words and plans into meaningful action is the next, more difficult, step.