Remarks at the Boao Forum Panel Discussion on APEC

  • Transcript, E&OE
10 April 2014

Steve, thank you for the introduction and also for the opportunity to be on this panel. This is the fourth occasion that I have been at the Boao Forum, I was here in 2006, 2012, 2013 and this year, so I am delighted to be a regular participant in this pre-eminent forum.

It is an undoubted fact that global economic weight has shifted to the Asia-Pacific and it is of great moment that the economies that are driving that growth are members of APEC. So APEC has the member economies to be a really vibrant, dynamic organisation. When you think about the Bogor principles of 1994, open trade investment by 2020, it certainly set lofty goals.

I think the challenge for APEC of recent times and, most certainly this year and beyond, will be to remain relevant to those ideals because we are aware with the proliferation of free trade agreements that are bilaterally or regionally achieving open trade and investment and some might argue this diminishes the role of APEC because the TPP or RCEP are in fact the manifestation of what APEC set out to achieve. But I believe APEC needs to ensure that its mandate remains fresh and relevant and it does what these free trade agreements cannot do – that's having an overarching role of coordinating the efforts that are taking place through bilateral, regional free trade agreements.

The ambition of open trade and investment means greater regional economic integration and we are seeing that. I think APEC can take credit for promoting free open trade and investment, even though this might be finding its expression in individual agreements. But there is much that needs to be done to get greater coordination for the behind the border barriers that still exist and that's where APEC can play an important and coordinating role.

APEC Leaders' Summits and Ministers' Meetings do not just bring about identifying and discussing economic issues – how to get greater people and goods and businesses moving more cheaply and more effectively across borders – but there have actually been practical outcomes from some of the meetings.

I am thinking of the APEC meeting, the summit in Bali last year where it was agreed to set up a pilot public private partnership centre in Indonesia and Australian contributed some seed funding of $3 million to that.

If that pilot, that PPP centre pilot, is seen to be a success then it can be scaled up and become part of a regional network of public private partnership centres that are identifying opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to leverage the private sector in infrastructure, productivity enhancement infrastructure for example.

So there is an instance where there was an outcome from an APEC meeting and likewise in 2012 in Vladivostok, the APEC meeting decided on a list of environmental goods where tariffs would be reduced and that decision actually engendered the WTO to focus on reducing tariffs in this area.

So APEC can be a driver of reform, APEC can be a coordinator. It also has over time morphed into other areas – not just trade and investment and economic issues – into human capital. For example it was agreed in Bali last year, another ambitious goal was set, that by 2020 there would be one million university level students undertaking exchanges within the APEC community.

Now Australia is very excited by this because we have established our own student exchange program that we called the New Colombo Plan, some in this room might remember the original Colombo Plan in the 1950s, which saw about 30,000 to 40,000 people come to Australia to study in our universities over a 30-year period. We are now reversing that and providing opportunities for young Australians to go into the Asia-Pacific and study at universities in China, Japan, Korea, throughout the Asia-Pacific, indeed Japan, Korea, China will be part of the Colombo Plan as well as other countries in APEC.

APEC not only drives ideas, promotes ideas, it delivers outcomes and I think if it is to remain relevant, as it must, than it needs to find the synergies with the other groups, or forums, or parts of the regional architecture that are also so significant. You mentioned the G20, it is a fact that Australia will be hosting the G20 in Brisbane just about a week after China hosts APEC in Beijing. So here is an ideal opportunity to focus the attention of world leaders on our part of the world, but also for Australia and China to work closely together to ensure that there are complementarities and synergies between the agenda and the outcomes in APEC and then what we are able to achieve at G20.

We are both focussing on economic growth and jobs and opportunities for our region, and so agenda items like infrastructure funding, trade liberalisation, taxation – a principle that tax should be paid where the profits are derived – development assistance, all these issues which are going to be part of the G20 should get an hearing at APEC so that we can continue to build on the work that occurs at APEC and we can continue to build on that at G20.

It is an important piece of the regional architecture, but must, as I say, remain relevant by addressing issues that are of concern and that are not being addressed by other forums or dialogues or frameworks. But also to build on the work that is being done by others and in that way APEC's role as the premier vehicle for open trade and investment and regional economic integration will endure.

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