Investing in human capital, building inclusive communities, and strengthening collaboration were at the forefront of the 2015 APEC summit in Manila.
The 2015 Economic Leaders’ Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit took place between November 18 and 19 in Manila. As the host country for the 2015 APEC summit, the Philippines had outlined an ambitious agenda focusing on inclusive growth and enhancing the integration of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) into international markets.
However, much of the international attention was redirected towards security concerns following a spate of terrorist attacks in November.
The summit concluded with the Leader’s Declaration from the 21 countries represented at the summit outlining six key commitments:
1. Building Inclusive Economies
Member-states committed to supporting “comprehensive and ambitious structural reforms” aimed at achieving “positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes.” To support the goal, the leaders pledged to a number of initiatives, including strengthening the services sector across the region and reaffirming commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As the host country, the Philippines had pushed hard for the inclusion of service-sector benefits, as services accounts for more than 50% of the country’s GDP in a given year.
2. Fostering Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises’ (MSMEs) Participation in Regional and Global Markets
APEC committed to fostering “an enabling trading environment that is responsive to new ways in which goods and services are produced and delivered,” as well as promoting inclusiveness for MSMEs.
Building on the Boracay Action Agenda adopted in May, APEC will seek to facilitate the integration of MSMEs into international markets. APEC endorsed the creation of an MSME Marketplace, aimed at providing MSMEs with access to international funding. This pledge is seen as a crucial and inclusive driver of growth for the region.
3. Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities
The third pledge focuses on two key areas: building sustainable and disaster-resilient economies, and making urbanization work for economic growth.
The devastation that Typhoon Haiyan brought to the Philippines in late 2013 serves as a prime example of the chaos and economic damage caused by the frequent natural disasters in the region.
One of the chief initiatives adopted was the APEC Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Framework aimed at facilitating collective work in in building adaptive and disaster-resilient economies. The DRR Framework aims to create an action plan in 2016 mapping out concrete steps to achieve this goal.
4. Investing in Human Capital Development
APEC leaders pledged to increase efforts to empower their citizens “with the tools to benefit from and participate in economic growth.” The pledge emphasized the need to develop technical skills, as well as building an adaptable and resilient workforce.
Leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to advancing women’s participation in the regional economy.
5. Enhancing the Regional Economic Integration Agenda
The leaders committed to achieving their “vision for an integrated community in a comprehensive and systematic manner.”
They reaffirmed commitment to the eventual realization of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) by building on ongoing regional efforts, particularly the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
6. Strengthening Collaboration
Finally, APEC leaders committed to working with a broad range of stakeholders and welcomed increased collaboration with a number of complementary bodies, such as the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC).
In spite of the ambitious goals laid out on the official agenda, security concerns overshadowed much of the conference. A spate of terrorist attacks by the Islamic State (IS) carried out in Paris, Beirut and aboard a Russian airliner ensured that security discussions would take precedence over Manila’s ambitious economic goals for the conference.
APEC leaders vowed to increase international cooperation to against terrorism, pledging that member-states will “not allow terrorism to threaten the fundamental values that underpin” the economies of APEC. While the APEC Leader’s Declaration did include strong condemnation of the recent terrorist attacks, no concrete promises were made.
Apart from IS, ongoing tension regarding overlapping territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea dominated sideline discussions. The Philippines, despite facing a number of maritime and territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, had sought to avoid contentious discussions so as not to overshadow the official economic agenda.
However, this fell short as U.S. President Barack Obama reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, visited the Philippines’ largest warship in Manila, and offered USD$250 million to American allies in ASEAN.
The Philippines, meanwhile, secured a number of military commitments, including two American navy vessels and also explored the possibility of receiving military equipment from Japan.