REGIONAL economic integration and continuing initiatives to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and micro enterprises (MEs) will be tackled at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade meetings to be held at the world-famous resort island of Boracay in Aklan.
THE Department Trade and Industry (DTI) said the Second APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM2) set for May 10-21 and the First Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting set for May 23-24 will focus on three areas.
These three are support for the multilateral system and World Trade Organization (WTO), Regional Economic Integration (REI), and the Philippines’ priorities on continuing initiatives to support SMEs and MEs through its APEC SME Action Agenda, said DTI Undersecretary Adrian S. Cristobal Jr.
Cristobal will represent the Philippines as minister for trade while DTI Secretary Gregory L. Domingo will chair the MRT as the Philippines as host country.
At the MRT meeting, trade ministers will exchange views on key issues including trade and investment liberalization and facilitation and economic and technical cooperation to promote APEC’s 2015 theme of inclusive growth in the Asia-Pacific region.
SOM2, on the other hand, will convene senior officials from each member economy to continue discussions in developing each technical working group’s key priorities and concrete deliverables leading up to the MRT.
“It is an important meeting because this year is the 20th anniversary of the WTO and there will be a 10th WTO ministerial meeting in December. This is an opportunity for the APEC’s Ministers Responsible for Trade to contribute on output for the WTO ministerial meeting. Within the APEC we will gather consensus on the important matters under WTO that should be pushed in December,” Cristobal told reporters on Thursday at a pre-departure press briefing.
The Philippines also invited WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo to brief the trade ministers on developments in the WTO, specifically updates on the Bali Package which include trade facilitation and preparations for the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya from 15 to 18 December 2015.
On regional integration, Cristobal said the trade ministers will discuss progress on the strategic collective study regarding the proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).
“This is something that was negotiated last year during China’s host year, 2014. There will be some information-sharing about regional trade agreements and free trade agreements that will be in the form of a symposium,” he said.
The ministers will also assess achievements of the APEC Bogor goals, connectivity, and implementation of the leaders’ commitment on reducing the tariff on 54 environmental goods (e.g. solar panels, renewable bamboo-based products) to 5 percent tariff or below by the end of 2015.
Cristobal said that of those 54 items, the Philippines has already reduced tariffs to 5 percent below on 51 items, and only three more still have tariff of above 5 percent.
SMEs an APEC priority
Cristobal said that as host country for APEC 2015, the Philippines is giving priority to SMEs and MEs.
In the Philippines, SMEs and MEs represent 98 percent of all registered businesses in the country, employ about 60 percent of the workforce, and account for about a third of the country’s GDP.
“We want to advocate vigorously for mainstreaming of SMEs and MEs into the regional and global trading system,” he said.
Cristobal said that the Philippines is aiming for the adoption by the ministers of the APEC SMEs action agenda and implementation of the APEC strategic blueprint on Global Value Chains (GVCs).
“The APEC Action Agenda on Growing Global SMEs calls for economic cooperation in APEC for inclusive growth through fostering participation of SMEs and MEs in regional and global markets. Emphasis will be on initiatives that are geared on the development and integration of micro, small or artisanal enterprises into the trading system. We are working towards galvanizing support of member economies to utilize trade facilitation, trade finance, and e-commerce as a means to develop dynamic and global SMEs and MEs,” Cristobal said.
According to Cristobal, the Philippine proposal contained in the APEC Action Agenda on Growing Global SMEs takes into account APEC’s work on SME capacity building and internationalization/participation in GVCs, and tries to build on this by now focusing APEC work towards SMEs as direct participants of cross-border trade.
“Trade should be convenient, efficient, and attractive not only for medium and large business, but also for micro and small enterprises. It should result into more productive employment opportunities, sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and for its benefits to be spread more widely,” he said.
“That’s why we want to ensure that the outcome for APEC 2015 involves our trade facilitation priorities and, at the same time, be beneficial to all participants. Ultimately, we want to bridge the gap between developing and developed APEC economies by further opening trade and investment in the Asia Pacific Region,” explained Cristobal.