15 February 2018 – APEC  Business  Advisory  Council  (ABAC)  Philippines  members  call on  the  local  business  community  to  share  the  benefits  of  growth  and  embrace  the digital  economy.  These  echoed  the  key themes  of  the  first  ABAC  meeting  for  2018 held in Auckland, New Zealand last February 1-4.
Tomas  Alcantara,  chair  of  ABAC  Philippines,  noted  how  APEC  plays  a  critical  role towards  achieving  the  shared  goal  of  inclusivity  which  will  directly  impact  the domestic  economy. “APEC represents an important region because it accounts for 64% of the Philippines’ foreign direct investments, 84% of its exports, and 63% of the Overseas Filipino population.”
Prospects for Asia-Pacific indicate that the region remains abound with opportunities. According  to  IMF  experts, Asia-Pacific  GDP  would  expand  by  5.4% this  year,  far outstripping  the  rate  of  advanced  economies  at  2%. Forecast  for  the  Philippines is even  brighter  with  the  agency  predicting  a  6.7%  growth  for  2018. The recent conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership by 11 APEC economies, seen as one of the key pathways to an integrated Asia-Pacific economy, is welcomed as a positive step to regional inclusivity."
Therefore, the Philippines should continue to engage the APEC community with the following strategies: (1) push for greater connectivity, (2) promote further liberalization of   trade,   (3)   adapt   to   industrialization,   and   (4)   achieve   a people-centered development,” explained  Mr.  Alcantara. He stated that MSME development,  the services  agenda, and  infrastructure finance are among the policy areas where the Philippines is most active.
ABAC PH member Joanne de Asis emphasized in Auckland how infrastructure provides the backbone of an inclusive economy, and that adequate financing is the lifeblood of infrastructure development in the region. “Infrastructure projects are the concrete and tangible outcomes of APEC’s and ABAC’s role in promoting prosperity in the region,” Ms. De Asis said. “Infrastructure finance, particularly  an  opportunity opening up in a pool of Islamic infrastructure financing, represents an alternative, new channel for funding projects under the government’s Build, Build, Build program. We look  forward  to  playing  an  active  role  in  this  new  area  of  work within ABAC,” she added.
Another big focus of ABAC this year is digital economy. In line with this, the private sector body of APEC has created a new working group that would address digital and innovation issues.
For ABAC Philippines’ Guillermo Luz, digital innovation as a new policy  topic  within ABAC  is  particularly  relevant  for  the  Philippines, which  has a  strong  service-oriented economy. “We will look at the opportunities and adjustments to the economy that were brought about  by  technologies  such  as  artificial  intelligence,  robotics  and machine learning, among others. It is estimated that as much as 80% of existing jobs today may be changed significantly or outright eliminated in the next 40-50 years and replaced by even larger number of new jobs. The implications on today’s educational system and curriculum will be massive,” Mr. Luz said.
ABAC 2018 chair David Toua of Papua New Guinea (PNG) explained what this focus on digital innovation means for Asia-Pacific. “The digital economy provides a springboard for small business, women and other disadvantaged groups to take part in trade and connect around the region.” PNG  is  the chair  for  2018  of APEC and ABAC meetings and will host the APEC Summit later this year.
He noted, however, that the full potential of a “Digital Asia-Pacific” could not be realized  without investing  to  counter  the  digital  divide  that  risks  leaving the  most vulnerable groups behind. “In all economies, we also need to nurture a future-ready workforce. That means putting in place the right settings for digital infrastructure, skills and education, and region-wide digital business-friendly regulation,” Mr. Toua added.
Explaining the thrust of PNG’s chairmanship for 2018, Mr. Toua said, “Growth is clearly an essential but not a sufficient condition for secure and prosperous communities.” He further stated, “We need to look closely at our economies’ policies to ensure that people can   actually take advantage   of   the   opportunities that growth brings. Harnessing inclusive opportunities is a key mantra for this year.”
With this year’s theme, “Digitization and Innovation –Advancing Social Harmony,” other specific priorities discussed in the ABAC meeting include improving connectivity; structural reform especially in  the  services  sector;  reducing trade and investment barriers; creating opportunities for MSMEs; strengthening financial systems; and grappling with issues around sustainable growth such as food and energy security.♦
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