Trade Chief Ramon M. Lopez

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez participated in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Virtual Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting on COVID-19 last Saturday, 25 July 2020. This was the first time in APEC history that a ministerial level meeting was held virtually with all 21 APEC member economies present from eight time zones.

Sec. Lopez joined the discussions on how trade can contribute to efforts to address the current health and economic crisis and fast-track the path for economic recovery. He pointed to three areas of work for APEC to work collectively on.

First, on safeguarding people and building resilience, Sec. Lopez highlighted the importance of APEC’s commitment to address the health and economic consequences of the crisis. The trade chief called on economies “to cooperate in data-gathering, research and development activities, particularly to strengthen health systems and provide access to affordable, high-quality health products, treatments and services for our people”. To bolster preparedness and response towards recovery, the Philippines also pushed APEC to explore the idea of a regional mechanism to stockpile critical medical goods.

Second, the Philippines joined other economies on the call to keep trade free, open, and fair through collective efforts to enhance trade facilitation by avoiding actions such as non-tariff barriers, including export and import restrictions, that add burden and costs for consumers and traders, particularly MSMEs.

Sec. Lopez also emphasized the need to facilitate the cross-border movement of people as restrictions to travel ease. Free and open trade should be complemented with fairness to maintain public support for trade and for keeping open markets to get through this crisis.

He said, “Any form of financial assistance should not end up as prohibited forms of subsidies that may distort international trade, confer undue advantage and in the long-term exacerbate concerns on unfair trade and prevent us from adequately addressing the crisis.”

Third, on preparing economies for the new normal, the Philippines highlighted the important role of the digital economy and innovation. The trade chief shared that more work needs to be done in areas such as data privacy, consumer trust, intellectual property protection and enforcement, and cybersecurity.

He stressed the need to provide support for MSMEs and other vulnerable groups, particularly through initiatives on financial inclusion, to help them recover. “We should provide more support and assistance for our MSMEs, the biggest sector imperiled by the pandemic. They need our support to adopt to new business models and acquire digital tools and skills if they are to survive the crisis,” Sec. Lopez said.

APEC economies have the most varied and extensive experience in dealing with the health and economic crisis. Based on the exchanges, the Trade Ministers successfully closed the meeting by issuing a statement which identifies initiatives that APEC can undertake in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trade Ministers also welcomed an APEC Declaration on Facilitating the Movement of Essential Goods focused on eliminating non-tariff barriers and facilitating trade.♦

Date of Release: 27 July 2020