Asia-Pacific business leaders from the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), meeting virtually this week, called on the region’s Trade Ministers to take the lead in a credible, relevant and strengthened World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Globally, we face significant health and economic challenges. Fundamentally trade can and must be at the centre of tackling both the immediate crisis and of laying the groundwork for a return to growth. The WTO is core to that effort,” said ABAC Chair Dato’ Rohana Tan Sri Mahmood of Malaysia.
Dato Rohana explained that ABAC had issued a statement of support for a reformed WTO ahead of the meeting of APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) taking place on 25 July. She said that ABAC had been deeply concerned at the levels of human suffering and severe economic contraction caused by the pandemic.
“Our message to Ministers is that global problems demand global solutions – and the WTO’s multilateral rules-based system must be at the heart of those solutions,” said Dato Rohana. “We are calling on APEC economies to lead a process of reform in the WTO to ensure that trade rules remain fit-for-purpose.”
She said that we need to liberalise trade in essential medical supplies and facilitate the movement of essential workers, so that for this and any future pandemics, those critical products and services can get to where they are needed most. Likewise, APEC economies should reaffirm their commitment to well- functioning agriculture markets, so that we do not add a food security crisis to the disruption of the pandemic.
“We also need to ensure that the WTO’s rules remain relevant and credible. It is imperative that we get the WTO’s dispute settlement system fully functioning again by appointing new members to the Appellate Body. We need more transparency around what economies are doing on trade. We must complete the unfinished business of the Doha Round, including by eliminating fisheries subsidies, making meaningful cuts to trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture and helping services and investment to work better,” she added.
Dato Rohana said that just as importantly, the WTO needed to stay responsive to modern business and social concerns. There is a need to review the rules in other areas to ensure that they are doing the job. The rules must also be updated for the digital age and support aspirations for sustainable and inclusive growth. That means substantive outcomes on e-commerce and a permanent moratorium on Customs duties on electronic transmission, tools to transition to a low-carbon economy by eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, and better ways for women and small businesses to succeed in trade.
ABAC STATEMENT ON THE WORLD TRADE ORGANISATION JULY 2020
The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) is deeply concerned about the fundamental challenge to global wellbeing represented by COVID-19. We face a “crisis like no other”. The multilateral rules-based trading system, with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its core, has a key role to play in our response in both the short term to the pandemic and for longer-term economic rebuilding. ABAC urges APEC economies to lead work in the WTO both to enhance short-term responses, and for the longer-term strengthening of the multilateral rules-based trading system.
A strong commitment to a credible, relevant and strengthened WTO that reflects evolving business needs and models is crucial to help rebuild business and investor confidence and to improve the trade landscape in the age of COVID-19.
APEC economies should thus reaffirm their support for urgent reform of the WTO in the strongest terms. The process to appoint a new Director General must not be allowed to distract from the following critical tasks, but rather must contribute to achieving them:
1. Drawing on the lessons of COVID-19, reform WTO rules for better responses to crises
WTO rules for trade in goods and services can enable essential medical supplies, essential workers and food supplies to get to where they are needed most. APEC economies should lead an initiative in the WTO to enable economies to respond more effectively to crises, including by:
- committing to the permanent elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers on a sectoral basis, covering an agreed list of essential medical supplies such as medical equipment, medicines and basic hygiene products such as hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment;
- committing to measures to ensure that supply chains are resilient, even in times of crisis;
- committing to removing barriers to the movement of essential personnel in times of crisis;
- committing to shoring up trade in food and agriculture, by removing unjustified export restrictions and non-tariff barriers and strengthening value chains; and
- enhancing transparency to make the trade and investment environment more predictable.
2. Work to strengthen the multilateral rules-based trading system
The WTO provides a crucial foundation for sustained prosperity. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 have shown that declining trade, worsened by protectionism, exacerbates the depth and duration of economic contraction. On the other hand, trade based on WTO principles of openness, non-discrimination, predictability and transparency can help to revitalise growth for the longer term, including for the most vulnerable.
i. Resolve the unfinished business from the Doha Round
Meaningful improvements are needed to the existing framework of rules, commitments and obligations to revitalise trade and achieve more sustainable and inclusive growth. APEC economies should take the lead in pressing for concrete outcomes, including on the following items of ‘unfinished business’ from the Doha Round:
- the elimination, as quickly as possible, of ‘fish subsidies’ that contribute to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and the destruction of global fish stocks;
- a meaningful cut in trade-distorting domestic support in agriculture, to drive better outcomes for markets, for food security, for development and for the environment; and
- improvements to rules for the domestic regulation of services, to enhance the ability of the sector to drive economy-wide productivity gains and create jobs.
ii. Fully functioning dispute settlement is fundamental to the multilateral trading system
The WTO dispute settlement system has resolved over 400 disputes, and forestalled many more. Every economy will be worse off if this system cannot operate to its fullest extent. APEC economies should:
- support the urgent appointment of a full slate to the WTO Appellate Body; and
- engage constructively to implement necessary reforms to the Appellate Body
recognising that some economies have joined the Multi-Party Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement as a temporary option to settle appeals.
iii. Initiatives to reflect the evolution of trade will revitalise the multilateral trading system
WTO rules must better reflect modern business and societal concerns. APEC economies should:
- commit to enhanced transparency, to demonstrate that the system remains fair and balanced for all and to promote predictability in international trade;
- drive agreement on substantive outcomes in the WTO negotiations on the trade-related aspects of e-commerce, to enhance the key role of digital technologies as a dynamic enabler of trade, including in response to the pandemic;
- seek agreement to a permanent moratorium on Customs duties on electronic transmissions, to avoid stifling innovation and growth in the digital economy;
- advance work on investment facilitation with a view to facilitating flows of investment;
- support the initiative to eliminate inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, consistent with a commitment to transition to a low-carbon economy, in response to climate change;
- support other initiatives that encourage more inclusive participation in trade, including by women, small businesses and young entrepreneurs, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19; and
- encourage greater involvement of the international business community in WTO processes, that would enhance transparency and improve predictability in the trade environment.
APEC economies should ensure that all of these outcomes are consistent with WTO principles and are designed with a view to serving as building blocks to multilateral outcomes in the future. Global challenges demand global solutions. The APEC Business Advisory Council and the wider Asia-Pacific business community fully supports APEC’s leadership in this most critical area.
Bernice Notenboom calls for action to tackle “the biggest threat we face – climate change”
“The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together. But, why do we overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change?,” Noteboom highlighted during The Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020.
Mayors of Florence (Italy), Bergen (Norway) and Tirana (Albania) shared the emergencies they are facing.
A number of cities and regions around the world have declared climate emergencies and expressed their commitment to take action on climate change. During the Emergency Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, polar explorer Bernice Notenboom shared video footage from her polar explorations to visualise this emergency and asked leaders to take action.
“The urgency is bigger than ever,” remarked polar explorer, filmmaker, and climate journalist Bernice Notenboom during the Emergency Plenary of the 9th European Conference On Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, while presenting the imminent consequences of climate change.
In a compelling presentation addressing the current environmental challenges worldwide, the journalist called on world leaders to keep global warming under controllable levels. “We need good leadership. Climate change doesn’t smell, it doesn’t have a taste, we can’t see it, but it is the biggest threat that we face,” Notenboom said, adding that “everybody will be affected, no matter where they are in the world.”
Comparing the sanitary crisis of the COVID-19 pandemics to the climate emergency, Notenboom highlighted the importance of working together to build a safer world to live in. “The pandemic gives us some hope because we have proven that we can all join together, put all the money in it, and even we are able to get our air pollution under control. Why can’t it be like this all the time? Why do we, if you ask me, overrate the pandemic and underrate climate change, which is a much bigger threat to the whole world?,” Notenboom questioned.
“Climate change is real. It’s not a slow movie, it comes to us like a tsunami, just like COVID-19 did,” she highlighted.
Notenboom ended her presentation by calling on the over 2,200 registered participants to learn from each other and take action.
Inspired by Notenboom’s call to learn from one another’s experiences, Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence; Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen (Norway), and Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana (Albania) shared insights on the main climate emergencies their cities are facing, and how they are preparing for, and overcoming them.
The Mayor of Florence explained how the city responded to the corona crisis by offering services and supporting the third sector, and remarked that “it is not only time for emergency aid, but it’s also time to rethink things, and to build back better.”
The Mayor of Tirana highlighted how a recent earthquake which struck the city provided them with an opportunity to create better neighbourhoods for citizens.
While, Marte Mjøs Persen, Mayor of Bergen, shared her worries “about our planet and our cities’ future”, which are affected by, among other things, more rain, higher temperatures, and rising sea levels, she stressed that “the planet needs our help”.
The conference continued with discussions on the tension between limited global resources, and an economic system that relies on constant growth. Economists, cities and other experts are looking into ways to urgently transform our societies, whilst making sure that no one is left behind.
The 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020
Over 2,200 participants have registered to participate in the 9th European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns – Mannheim2020, the flagship European conference on local sustainable development. These participants joined from 39 countries in Europe, plus an additional 50 countries outside of Europe.
The conference builds on the legacy of the Basque Declaration, and asks, how can we take sustainability transformation forward? It acknowledges that we are in need of profound transformation across all aspects of society, and offers plenaries and policy panels to debate the various facets of this transformation. This is complemented by in-depth Solution and Toolbox Sessions (on Friday, 2 October), which will bring these high-level discussions to the local level, with concrete proposals.
On 1 October at 09:30 CEST, as part of the Green Deal Plenary of the Mannheim2020 conference, the Mannheim Message will be formally presented to the European Commission. The Mannheim Message is a call to involve local governments as real dialogue partners for policy development, not just implementation partners for policies that have been developed without them.
Achieving gender equality key to restoring economic resilience in Asia
Business leaders and policymakers in Thailand said today that top priority must be given to empowering women in the workplace if Asia and the Pacific is to recover from the economic damage of the coronavirus pandemic.
The CEOs of 110 companies in Thailand signed and announced new commitments to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) during a ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the principles. They committed to broaden and strengthen gender-responsive business practices, including gender-equal corporate leadership, inclusive, safe workplaces and equal pay for work of equal value. More than 3,600 companies worldwide have signed the WEPs, established by UN Women and United Nations Global Compact. Before today, only 11 companies in Thailand had signed on.
Narumon Pinyosinwat, Thailand’s Deputy Minister of Labour, said today’s event will help boost women’s labour force participation in Thailand. She said women now make up 45 percent of the country’s total workforce. But it is estimated that by 2040, up to 17 million jobs (44 per cent of all jobs) in Thailand could be at risk of automation – and due to gender inequality, women are more likely to lose those jobs. That is why the Ministry of Labour has made women’s economic empowerment a top priority, Narumon said.
“The framework of [UN Women’s] WeEmpowerAsia programme is a leading example through which we can work together, to make our voices heard, and reinforce the gender-inclusive business culture and narrow gender gaps across industries,” she said.
H.E. Pirkka Tapiola, Ambassador of the European Union to Thailand, commended the 110 companies at the event for their collective commitment and presented the EU’s perspective on how gender equality charts a direct path towards inclusive growth: “Seeing more and more companies both in Europe and in Thailand become more gender-inclusive is important progress. The commitment and actions by the private sector help build an economy in which women can participate on an equal footing, with a positive impact not only on economic growth, but our societies as a whole.”
Thailand has done comparatively well in putting women into the highest positions in business. Twenty-four per cent of CEOs/managing directors in Thailand are women, compared to an average of 20 per cent worldwide and only 13 per cent in the Asia-Pacific. Thailand has the world’s highest percentage of female chief financial officers – 43 per cent – and the third-highest percentage of female CEOs.
Mohammad Naciri, Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific, said the region’s economies can create an opportunity for full recovery by building on the trend towards equality.
“As women make half of the world population, empowering women to achieve gender equality would serve as a key to restoring economic resilience in challenging times,” he said. “UN Women has been at the forefront of the response since the [coronavirus] outbreak, and celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Women’s Empowerment Principles this year, we are dedicated more than ever to collaborating with our reliable partners in Asia and the Pacific region, including Thailand as well as the European Union.”
During the event, participants also discussed how to measure progress on gender diversity policies and highlighted the importance of transparent data and business accountability. Also, new and emerging entrepreneurs described how their companies were fighting gender bias and promoting women’s leadership.
The event was organized by UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme, which is funded by the EU. The programme supports companies in implementing the WEPs and a gender-inclusive business culture in seven countries in Asia, including Thailand.
More than 250 people attended the event, including members of the Thai private, public and social sectors, as well as representatives of UN Women and the European Union.
IRENA’s Collaborative Framework on Hydropower Takes Shape
Advancing the discussion from June 2020, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) held its second meeting of the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower. With more than 100 attendees from 49 Members and States in Accession, the virtual meeting witnessed a high level of engagement to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise that exists within the Agency and its global Membership. The two-hour session was moderated by H.E. Mr. Jean-Christophe Fueeg, Head of International Energy Affairs at the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications of Switzerland.
Today, hydropower is the largest source of renewable energy worldwide, and its development is considered essential in driving the energy transition forward. IRENA Members have, over the years and as recently as the last Assembly, requested IRENA to expand its work on hydropower and facilitate targeted collaboration for the continued deployment of hydropower technologies.
Providing the opening remarks, IRENA’s Director-General Francesco La Camera said: “As an enabler for integrating higher shares of renewable energy into power systems, hydropower is set to play an important role in the energy transition and will be critical to the decarbonisation of economies. Promoting the continued deployment of hydropower has been, and remains, an important part of IRENA’s work.”
IRENA launched the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to address pressing challenges and seize potential opportunities. During its kick-off meeting in June, Members agreed on the thematic scope of the Collaborative Framework, including the need to ensure the continued development of hydropower in a sustainable manner, the relevance of hydropower as flexibility provider and enabler for the integration of high shares of variable renewables (VRE), the need for adequate remuneration of services through business models and market structures and the role of hydropower in climate resilience. Other topics of interest included innovative solutions and operation and maintenance practices.
Member countries also decided to bring in hydropower stakeholders from the public and private sector as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental actors. In response, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) and the World Bank were invited to the second meeting to discuss their future engagement in the Collaborative Framework with the IRENA membership.
On the basis of proposals by IRENA, Members agreed on the modalities for future meetings, enabling the Collaborative Framework on Hydropower to take further shape.
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