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2020 PECC GM Keynote Address Minister Mohamed Azmin AliThe 27th PECC General Meeting concluded on 17 December 2020. The event was hosted by the Malaysian National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation (MANCPEC) on the theme of “Optimizing Human Potential Towards Future of Shared Prosperity and Sustainability in Times of Covid-19.” Ambassador Don Campbell, international co-chair of PECC said that how we respond to the Covid-19 crisis was a defining moment of our age. While we were in a moment of danger, we were also in a moment of opportunity to address issues that we had thus far failed to address – such as sustainability and inequality.

Mr. Herizal Hazri, Chief Executive, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), and Chair, Malaysia National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation reflecting on the discussions over the course of the General Meeting said that it is clear that there we have many challenges facing us due to Covid-19, but it is also clear that many of these questions have been with us for decades – how to build a just, equitable and sustainable economy. The pandemic has taught us that we all need to be actively involved in trying to find a way forward and that we are running out of time. The focus needs to be on equalizing opportunities for people.

Malaysia’s Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI), YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, opened the event with a keynote address in which he underscored the region’s need for “a long-term strategic blueprint that would pave the way for sustained and vibrant growth built on the edifice of a rules-based multilateral trading system that is free, fair and open.” He highlighted two milestones that had been achieved this year that give cause for optimism in this regard, the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 that was launched at the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM) 2020; and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Agreement that was signed at the margins of the recent ASEAN Summit.

Looking ahead to 2021, the incoming chair of the APEC Senior Officials process, New Zealand’s Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Vangelis Vitalis underscored the uncertainty facing the region. To mitigate against this uncertainty, Mr. Vitalis highlighted the importance of agreements that provide certainty, for example the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and now underscored the achievement of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement in this context. While the WTO remains the most important institution in providing certainty it needs support and he put forward the idea of ‘concerted open plurilateralism’.

He cited the recent Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA) among Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand, as an example of this concept. It provides a way for economies to experiment with trade rules in areas of importance for businesses. The DEPA was deliberately constructed in a way that allowed other economies to either join the agreement or take modules they found useful and use them in other agreements, he argued. While trade rules are an important way to provide certainty for businesses, Mr. Vitalis also spoke about ‘soft rules’, and the role of APEC as an incubator.

Mr. Vitalis acknowledged the role that Malaysia had played in steering the region towards a regional consensus on the Putrajaya Vision that charts out a regional vision for next 20 years. New Zealand’s biggest task as APEC host in 2021 will be to develop an implementation plan for that vision.

On the occasion of PECC’s 40th anniversary, there was a strong sense of renewal with active participation of a new generation of regional thought-leaders in the General Meeting. Next Generation participants from Australia; Canada; China; Hong Kong, China; Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; the United States and Vietnam prepared a memorandum that was delivered to the PECC Standing Committee. The Next Generation thought-leaders had been attending the General Meeting sessions along with PECC member committee engaged in a dialogue with the Standing Committee at the close of the General Meeting. They had chosen socio-economic concerns of the next generation as their focus.

In their memorandum they stressed, however, that issues need to address in a systemic manner. For example, every topic needs to include, or be linked to climate change action. This is an opportunity to better think about regional-level approaches to climate change, and this fits with enhancing regional integration and regional trade. ‘After all, climate change is a borderless issue and requires solutions that transcends boundaries,’ they said.

Furthermore, they stressed the need for the next generation to be more engaged in decision making on issues that will impact their lives, and on issues that they have different perspectives on such as climate change; remote education and training.

The Pacific Economic Cooperation Council also elected Dr. Richard Cantor, Chair of the US PECC committee as international co-chair succeeding Ambassador Don Campbell. Dr. Cantor is the Chief Credit Officer for Moody’s Corporation and Moody’s Investors Service. Prior to joining Moody’s Corporation, Dr. Cantor held various positions at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He was also an adjunct professor for business schools at New York University and Colombia University and taught Economics at UCLA and The Ohio State University. On assuming the role of co-chair of PECC, Dr. Cantor observed three resets: the COVID-19 response and recovery provide economies a chance to address the weaknesses in globalization that have been exposed and develop a more resilient and inclusive system; the APEC Putrajaya Vision 2040 “resets” APEC’s agenda, recommitting economies to an ambitious trade agenda while recognizing the need to tackle the challenges of digital transformation and ensure that we achieve growth in a more balanced and sustainable manner; and in the United States, we will reset from an administration that focused on unilateralism to one that has vowed to embrace multilateral approaches to global engagement.

Dr. Cantor joins Ambassador Su Ge, chair of the China PECC committee as the international co-chair of PECC. Before becoming the chair of CNCPEC, Ambassador Su was the President of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) from 2015-2018, and served as the Director of Center for Chinese Diplomatic Studies. He joined CIIS in 2000 as Vice President and Senior Research Fellow. Before that, he was a professor at Foreign Affairs College and doctoral supervisor at Tsinghua University. Dr. Su received his M.A. and Ph.D. in international and area studies from Brigham Young University. He was a Post-doctorate at Harvard University and Beijing Foreign Studies University. He was a Senior Fulbright Fellow at Georgetown University, Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University.

In closing the PECC General Meeting, Ambassador Su Ge, the co-chair of PECC, said ‘This should be taken as a new starting point for us to begin another phase in Asia-Pacific cooperation. Let us move toward closer regional economic integration, sustain the strong momentum of development in our region, and embrace a future of shared prosperity. Together, we can build an Asia-Pacific community with a shared future featuring openness and inclusiveness, innovation-driven growth, greater connectivity, and mutually beneficial cooperation. Step by step, we can surely turn our vision into reality and deliver a better life for people in the region.

The Standing Committee approved new signature projects on: Economic Integration Issues posed by the Digital Economy; Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-Pandemic Era; and new international projects on International Trade and Tourism and Managing the Blue Economy. Dr. Narongchai Akrasanee, chair of the Thai PECC committee was elected as chair of the Finance Committee.

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