Key to Prosperity: Racing to the Top

Geopolitical tensions and wars are now dominating headlines. Yet three decades ago, the world was a much more optimistic place. The idea of Asia Pacific, and the idea of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), reminds us that there is an alternative vision of a peaceful, prosperous and collaborative Asia Pacific. And that amidst the contemporary divisiveness, economic cooperation among nations is still a worthy pursuit.

The more challenging our current global conditions are, the more we should be grateful for the existence of APEC. There isn’t any other regional grouping in which the United States, China, the Russian Federation are members, and subnational economies of China, are all sitting at the same table. In other words, the existence of APEC itself is already a cause for us to celebrate and, more importantly, APEC gives us an organisational form and an alternative vision.

Racing to the Top

The world needs a new trade agenda. It can’t be the regurgitation of old cliches but rather a fresh approach. The new agenda has to steer nations away from racing to the bottom but to push forward for the race to the top together.

The new trade agenda would have to take into account that trade has to ensure workers are well-paid, and both advanced economies and developing countries could sustain a robust middle class. It would also have to place climate at its centre while ensuring that states receive adequate taxes from multinationals to provide services, especially health services, and to ensure social cohesion.

Trade needs to connect the dots between climate, the sustenance of a middle class society, and ensuring that the workforce is healthy, and feel secure enough about their lives so that they could consume as consumers, not just as workers.

Therefore, avoiding racing to the bottom and ensuring that we create the conditions for economies racing to the top should be the new trade agenda.

Malaysia’s Policies, APEC Priorities

For Malaysia, APEC remains an important forum to outlay our economic strategies and aspirations. From nurturing a vibrant digital landscape to protecting our shared environment, Malaysia’s domestic initiatives echo the very spirit of APEC’s agenda.

In this connection, last year, Malaysia introduced two ground-breaking national policies – the New Industrial Master Plan (NIMP 2030) and the National Energy Transition Roadmap (NETR).

These policies were introduced in a very opportune moment which coincides with what I termed as Malaysia’s “second economic takeoff”. At the core of these policies, we will find that it is very much aligned with Malaysia’s commitment to APEC’s trade facilitation and closer economic cooperation priorities. It also demonstrates our emphasis on creation and adoption of cutting-edge technology; prioritising ESG initiatives; acceleration of energy transition; as well as inclusive growth.

Specifically on inclusive growth, I highly commend APEC Peru’s efforts this year to promote the transition of informal economic actors to the formal and global economy. Such an initiative resonates well with our priorities, due to the similarities in our economic makeup. As I have constantly advocated, Malaysia needs to envisage ourselves to become a middle-class society, with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) playing a monumental role as the backbone of our economy.

ABAC’s Role

The existence of APEC as a forum for communication, and the fact that member economies continue to meet regularly, are a feat in this geographically tense era. It is within this policy alignment context that the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) plays its significant roles. Beyond the facilitating trade and investment agenda,

ABAC must also emerge as a stalwart champion of dialogue and understanding – a proactive force promoting economic stability and sustainability in our region. Through open communication, shared interest, and an unwavering commitment to economic cooperation, we can bridge divides and fortify a more resilient Asia-Pacific.

Views from ABAC will help governments to realise APEC’s vision and mission. In order to tap into and leverage on the boundless opportunities for growth, public-private partnerships and cooperation between APEC governments and the private sector is key if we are to achieve tangible outcomes.

With this spirit, I believe that all APEC economies are looking forward to hearing ABAC recommendations including through ABAC’s Annual Recommendations to Leaders, especially those recommendations that could be a springboard for greater collaboration, innovation, and progress.

We must commit ourselves to translate the theme of “People. Business. Prosperity” into tangible APEC initiatives in line with Putrajaya 2040 Vision. By doing so, we can ensure that the outcomes of our collective efforts lead not only to economic prosperity this year but serve as important building blocks towards a continuous, resilient and sustainable growth into the future.

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