The APEC Study Centers throughout the APEC region have been meeting with each other every year. This year, the APEC Study Centers Consortium Conference was held in Boracay Island, Philippines on May 12-13, 2015. The main hosts of the Conference were the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and the Philippine APEC Study Center Network (PASCN).
Main Points of the Sessions
The Conference primarily consisted of six sessions. In Session 1, the focus was on "Pathways to FTAAP." The participants agreed that APEC should provide the strongest support for realizing the FTAAP. Specifically, APEC should serve as the platform for communication, exchange of best practices, and capacity building. In addition, APEC should maintain its support for the principle of open regionalism and the World Trade Organization. Another important point was that the participants believed that in any pathway to FTAAP, the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) should be emphasized and that concrete actions to advance SMEs should be developed (PIDS 2015). Most importantly, APEC should ensure that all APEC members can become members of the FTAAP. The reason was that the FTAAP was a product of APEC and APEC members had reached consensus to achieve the FTAAP. The economic benefits to APEC would be substantial when all APEC members could participate in the comprehensive FTAAP.
In Session 2, the main topic of discussion was "Connectivity through Services." The main point was that efficiency in services had increasingly been associated with higher labor productivity and competitiveness in manufacturing. Moreover, services had been recognized as the facilitator of global value chains and logistics chain in particular. The main challenge was that the services sector continued to be highly restrictive in many parts of the world as well as the APEC region. Furthermore, the difficulty of changing domestic regulations had led to the reluctance of economies to liberalize their services sector. It is suggested that economies should promote knowledge sharing and the development of a knowledge community for promoting regulatory reforms (PIDS 2015).
Session 3 was about "Trade and Investment Patterns and Supply Chain Connectivity." It was mentioned that the extent of gains from regional integration would depend greatly on the volume and quality of trade and investment patterns, infrastructure, and connectivity in the region. The experiences of Thailand and Viet Nam indicated that factors such as real interest rate, degree of openness, and exchange rate could significantly affect and explain foreign direct investment (FDI) trends and patterns. Another important point was that policies that promoted investments and lowered trade transaction costs were considered crucial to FDI inflows (PIDS 2015).
With regard to Session 4, the emphasis was on "Fostering SMEs' Participation in the Regional and Global Economy." It was related that SMEs could be a major driver for economic growth. SMEs had contributed by creating a stable economy given their flexibility and capacity to easily absorb both skilled and unskilled labor. The viability of SMEs is important for developing competitive and efficient markets. Presently, SMEs had faced the greatest difficulty in borrowing money from banks. The reason was that most SMEs did not have credit data and the perceived risks in lending to SMEs. A suggestion was made that stronger financial cooperation must be advanced and a credit rating system for SMEs should be developed. In addition, with trade being integrated by production and supply chains, natural disasters can cause serious problems for SMEs. It was estimated that only 25 percent of SMEs had re-opened following natural disasters. APEC should enhance the resilience of SMEs (PIDS 2015).
Session 5 was about "Investing in Human Capital Development." It was mentioned that education, training, and human resource development could raise the output and productivity of workers. However, several issues continued to be important, such as developing 21st century workforce, aligning education and training to industry needs, and strengthening the productivity of SMEs through skills training. Another suggestion was that it would be necessary to create an environment that would encourage academic and technical exchanges. APEC economies could send at least five percent of the students enrolled in their leading universities to universities in other APEC economies to stimulate cross-border education. It was also suggested that an APEC Qualification Framework could be created. The Framework would function as a standard for comparing the training, qualifications, skills, and competencies of various semi-skilled workers (PIDS 2015).
The focus of Session 6 was on "Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities." With regard to climate change, it was suggested that there was the need to enhance the supervision of change by adopting an integrated approach, given the wide-ranging impacts of climate change. Intersectoral and inter-agency collaboration would be necessary and further multidisciplinary research to understand climate change would be needed. Moreover, fiscal risks arising from natural disasters were a concern shared by most APEC member-economies. Individual governments often shoulder a large part of the cost of disasters, particularly in developing economies. A suggestion was the promotion of insurance and other risk-sharing schemes. In addition, APEC could contribute to the mitigation of the adverse effects of environmental degradation. Since these were cross-border issues, solutions must be derived through international cooperation. A suggestion was that APEC could liberalize a number of environmental goods in the APEC list, so as to contribute to global efforts to foster sustainable development (PIDS 2015).
Comments and Suggestions
The annual APEC Study Centers Consortium Conference has been an important event for the Centers to gather together and discuss major APEC issues for that year from the perspective of researchers. From the Conference, valuable suggestions have been presented that could be further developed. In order to enhance the linkage between APEC and the APEC Study Centers as well as to strengthen the linkage among the APEC Study Centers, it is suggested that APEC provides funding for one research project each year to the APEC Study Centers. The APEC Study Centers would choose the topics for research, so as to ensure that the APEC Study Center are able to undertake outstanding research.
It is also suggested that the APEC fora and the APEC Study Centers could collaborate on examining APEC issues. This means that the APEC fora could request comments and suggestions from interested APEC Study Centers. In doing so, the APEC fora would have access to good quality research. The APEC Study Centers would enhance their knowledge of APEC issues and the views of the APEC fora.
PIDS. 2015. "Summary Report of the APEC Study Centers Consortium Conference 2015." Manila: PIDS.