Published on Let's Talk Development

March Madness or Spring Awakening?

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APEC and New Beginnings in Trade

The first Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM I) of Asia-Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC) concluded earlier this month in Washington D.C. The APEC 2011 agenda now swings into full action. The member economies in the region are looking for ways to reaffirm APEC’s reputation for innovative economic integration initiatives – and the means by which to stave off new hiccups in the region’s economic recovery.  In particular, the new APEC Supply Chain Connectivity Initiative (SCI) holds real promise as a dynamic successor to APEC’s successful Trade Facilitation Action Plans, which resulted in significant trade cost reductions across the region. 

As a testament to the dynamism and ambition behind the trade-related policy goals of APEC – the United States, as APEC 2011 Chair, and the World Bank are working with APEC to build a platform to expand trade through research, data, and capacity building – with direct participation of private sector firms. Fedex is with us in this new venture. Is this March madness – yet another attempt to forge alliances where goals are shared but sustaining momentum proves tough?  Or is it a spring awakening that data, research, and direct partnerships with firms to build in this area provides the real anchor for taking action to assist developing countries tackle trade costs at their source?  I suggest it is the latter.

 At the most general level, the work provides a new channel to underpin low cost, short- to medium-term projects focused on the “software” of trade facilitation reform (i.e.: policy, regulation, administration, etc. versus infrastructure investment).  Project design and implementation will be aimed at capacity building efforts and will be directly informed by the private sector, in consultation with the World Bank.  Goals of the projects will align with “action plans,” drafted by APEC Member Economies to identify primary trade and logistics constraints. 

All projects will have a core emphasis on new data and analytics, driven and leveraged by private sector capacities to provide insight into the trade environment across the region. Data will be shared by government and private firms. This will not only support monitoring and evaluation of APEC trade facilitation efforts, but will also allow researchers across the region to better understand and prioritize trade facilitation needs.  In this respect, the Partnership is in line with the World Bank’s goal of “democratizing” development economics research, as outlined by President Robert Zoellick in his September 2010 speech at Georgetown University. New sources of data, and the analytics made possible through them, will lend increased clarity and effectiveness to APEC’s trade facilitation agenda as it moves into this next critical phase.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, is an inter-governmental grouping of 21 Member Economies1, which account for approximately 40.5% of the world's population, approximately 54.2% of world GDP and about 43.7% of world trade . Established in 1989, APEC works to create an environment for the safe and efficient movement of goods, services and people across borders in the region through policy alignment and economic and technical cooperation. The body is unique in that it operates on a basis of non-binding commitments – all decisions are reached by consensus and commitments are undertaken on a voluntary basis. Time will be the judge of all this, but at a minimum, a new path is being taken in APEC – one in which the power of data and new research can advance work in which everyone sees value and promise.
1Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Canada; Chile; People's Republic of China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Republic of Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; The Republic of the Philippines; The Russian Federation; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; United States of America; Viet Nam.


John Wilson

Former Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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