Interview : David Toua
How can APEC help member economies achieve smarter globalisation?
DAVID TOUA: The primary objectives of APEC are to promote open trade between its 21 member economies and to facilitate the agencies working towards this goal. Ultimately, this should result in an inclusive business environment with enhanced regional integration. That said, APEC members have to create policies and pathways to implement open trade and investment. An example of this would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership – now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – an agreement that is meant to dismantle remaining trade and investment barriers among participants. While there is recognition within the community that we must address growing protectionist sentiment, we also remain hopeful that the US will choose to join the CPTPP in the future. Multilateral agreements have important trickle-down effects for the APEC community, with the goal of ensuring all members share the benefits. APEC and ABAC are determined to make the benefits of digitisation and innovation widely available, with another focus being the role of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and how to spur their growth.
What are the most important lessons Papua New Guinea can learn from other APEC members?
TOUA: PNG has been a member of APEC since 1993 and accepted all Bogor goals for open trade and investment. However, the reality is that the goals of APEC are broad and can mean different things to different members; even within the same country you can have different players with their own preferences. It is important that PNG, together with and representative of its Pacific Island neighbours, brings all players together and stays with its own agenda. Smaller member countries like PNG, when accepting the benefits of APEC, also have the opportunity to make significant steps forward by learning from others. We are an emerging market with specific challenges, but we are working closely with countries that have already faced similar obstacles. For example, PNG has a large informal sector. There are APEC members who have experienced the same challenges that this brings, and we can learn from them. Another example is those countries that have already learned lessons about extracting resources, from which we can learn how to turn our natural wealth into inclusive growth. Many think APEC is just an annual meeting, but it is much more than that – it is an opportunity that brings PNG onto the world stage.
How could the organisation and implementation of APEC events create positive trickle-down effects?
TOUA: The most immediate returns would be for the services sectors directly involved, namely hospitality and travel. Industries producing and advertising local products, including art, might also benefit in the short-term. However, if people expect an immediate windfall for the entire country, they will be disappointed. The real benefits will come from an improved image and inclusive opportunities, both of which will take time.
The reality is that we suffer from a perception issue. When people search on the internet for PNG they are likely to find sensational information, but, as more of the world comes to our shores, we can begin to fix that image. The best way to accomplish this is through tourism. The diversity of PNG is immense – there is something for everyone. However, it is difficult to turn this interest into actual economic growth when we lack digitisation, SMEs, and the infrastructure that enables access and cost-efficient opportunities. APEC will help us address these issues, perhaps changing not only the international perception, but also the local one. PNG’s public and private sector must understand the benefits of digitisation. APEC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity encompassing 59% of the world’s GDP. We need more people and companies willing to change in order for us to reap the benefits of our APEC membership status.
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