Prime Minister opens APEC CEO Summit

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā rangatira.

E te whānau o APEC, ka mihi a Aotearoa Niu Tireni ki a koutou katoa.

Nau mai, haere mai ki tēnei hui.

Ki ngā mate o te ao. Haere atu rā. Rātou ki a rātou.

Ki a tātou, e hoa mā. Kia haumaru te noho.

Mauri tū, mauri ora. Waihoki, ōhanga tū, ōhanga ora.

Haumi e. Hui e. Tāiki e!

A warm greeting to all of you from New Zealand. It is a pleasure to open this Summit.

We have a saying in New Zealand. He rau ringa e oti ai – many hands make light work.

While this exemplifies kiwi attitudes, in many ways it’s what the whole world has been doing for the past two years. The heavy load of a global pandemic that in equal measure threatens lives and livelihoods has been countered only with an extraordinary commitment to unity, partnership and progress in spite of the challenges.

And it’s in that spirit of cooperation and progress that I say it’s an honour to talk with you all today.

Executives and leaders from businesses of all shapes and sizes from all over the APEC Region: subject experts, industry leaders, innovators, great thinkers, entrepreneurs. 

People who are making a significant difference to our futures, to our businesses and to how we trade across the APEC region. Nau mai, haere mai, welcome.

I wish I was welcoming you to the beautiful city of sails that is Auckland. But I shall do that instead in 2022, as we reconnect with the world. But you might want to be quick, Auckland has been named by the Lonely Planet as the best city in the world to visit next year. And for good reason.

But rather than talk about it, I invite you to see for yourself.

Until then, I wanted to share a few reflections on the last 20 months here in Aotearoa New Zealand, which, like everywhere else, has been defined by COVID-19.

Each economy around the world faced vastly different challenges when initially confronted with the pandemic.  But there are some lessons that have been consistent.

One such lesson is that the health of our people and the health of our economies are intrinsically linked. Our government here in New Zealand believed this from the outset.

As a nation, we worked hard to eliminate the virus while at the same time sustaining the economy through a $12 billion COVID-19 Economic Response Package that helped businesses keep their staff employed.

New Zealand’s economy is bouncing back, in fact it has held up incredibly well throughout.

Despite the tough picture internationally.  Despite the challenges with supply chains.  And despite the twin blows associated with the loss of two of our biggest export earners – tourism and international education. We have had strong economic growth. 

Employment is at a record high and the third highest in the OECD, and we have one of the lowest levels of government debt in the OECD. 

And while it’s been incredibly tough for many, business confidence has been sustained and companies continue to invest.

And so there continue to be lessons from COVID, that after first securing the health of your population, you can build back better – and bringing more options to the table for our exporters is key for a country like ours.

That’s why we were excited in recent weeks to announce a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom.

A strong economy, built on healthy export receipts, has also provided the Government with the fiscal headroom needed to continue to support those businesses most in need. This sits alongside our focus on ensuring our recovery is inclusive and equitable, because as always those with the least are hit with the full force of the disruption and hardship associated with an economic shock like this one.

But ultimately, the strength and sustainability of the recovery depends on our connections including to this Asia-Pacific region.

Every crisis presents an opportunity. And the 21 APEC economies have been dealt a heavy burden, but also an opportunity to strike an economic reset on a scale we haven’t seen since World War 2.

This year APEC Leaders have shown a determination to work together, to emerge from this pandemic stronger and more resilient than we were before.

We have already met once this year, and will meet again tomorrow. 

But that cooperation cannot just be between governments. An inclusive and sustainable recovery and economic resilience for our region must occur alongside you – business.

Because our prosperity is more closely linked now than it’s ever been before.

While governments can set standards and show leadership, we have also seen a bold business community implement change during such challenging times.

As we prepare for the post-pandemic era, there are three areas where government and business can work strongly together to grow our economies and societies.

First to Digital…

If there is a silver lining to the restrictions we’ve all recently experienced, it is that we have been forced to take a ‘major digital leap forward’. After years of talking about the digital transformation, COVID-19 accelerated our progress by years.

For example, here in New Zealand, we have launched the Digital Boost programme which drives partnerships with the private sector to deliver digital training to tens of thousands of SMEs so that they have the tools and skills needed to be resilient and thrive.

So crucial in a country like ours, made up mostly of small and micro businesses.

Liz Mitchell, one of New Zealand’s long standing fashion designers, faced a difficult pandemic-induced problem: taking the measurements of clients, both locally and overseas, for bespoke garments when travel was restricted.

She shared her challenge with Digital Boost and came away with online measurement tools and video media – digital solutions that were picked up by other businesses facing similar challenges.

One food business used Digital Boost to optimise social media just before a lockdown – and now instead of producing 200 jars for her local market, she gets orders of over 2000.

Another entrepreneur who didn’t have access to the internet until the age of 18 now helps our farming community to digitise parts of their work on the farm to seek efficiencies while meeting environmental rules.

And if you need an even more Kiwi example – our second most capped All Black Keven Mealamu has spoken about how Digital Boost helped him to run a successful gym with digital tools that help people stay connected and motivated with their training.

We are also supporting trade in the digital era.

The Digital Economy Partnership Agreement between New Zealand, Chile and Singapore – which Korea and China are now looking to join, and we welcome those others looking to accede – has established cutting edge rules and practices to facilitate digital trade, and promote ongoing discussion on issues like digital inclusion.

This brings me to the second area of co-operation – Inclusion.

This is about combatting inequality, but it is also about maximising the benefits from an engaged and productive labour force.

If business and government take action on gender parity in the workplace alone, McKinsey’s estimate that global GDP would be US$13 trillion higher in 2030. That is like adding an economy the size of China to our global economic weight.

The adoption of gender responsive policies and business practices will enable women and girls to participate in, and benefit from, the recovery from COVID-19.

This is particularly important as we deal with the US 1 trillion dollar shock of women falling out of the workforce as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Empowering Indigenous Peoples is another area of economic opportunity that is also the right thing to do. There are about 270 million Indigenous peoples across our region, the majority of whom have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Here in New Zealand we have not shied away from doing the mahi, the work, in building our partnership across all aspects of life with Maōri, and I know as a region we are absolutely committed to unlocking the full potential for economic growth and improved social and commercial outcomes for Indigenous communities.

In recent years, the Māori economy has emerged as one of the fastest growing parts of the New Zealand economy, with it now worth NZ$70 billion.  We want to work alongside other APEC economies to grow the opportunity for Indigenous businesses across the entire region.

The third area where business and government has a shared agenda is sustainability and climate change.  We must not allow the post-COVID recovery to return to business-as-usual, inexorably driving up emissions and the trajectory of global warming.

Customers want choices, and increasing numbers are choosing to go green. You’ll know better than me that people buy products aligned to their personal values.

And so innovative businesses at the forefront of providing green products and services are already establishing a commercial advantage over their competitors.

As a Government, we are committed to deepening our partnership with business to urgently address the transition to a low-carbon future.

And with significant green investment and R&D funds already available, sustainable businesses are set to grow.  In New Zealand, we are investing $300 million to recapitalise New Zealand Green Investment Finance to continue investing in support of climate change mitigation.

We are making a big investment into infrastructure too, $57.3 billion over the next five years, providing an opportunity to transform our economy to energy generation and transport models that shift us away from a reliance on fossil fuels.

And governments have a responsibility to send the right signals to businesses and consumers, for example by discouraging inefficient use of fossil fuels. 

Why on earth are governments subsidising fossil fuel use to the tune of some US$500 billion every year?  I’m pleased that APEC is turning the tide on these subsidies by taking concrete steps to tackle them.

And I am proud that we are taking practical action in APEC this year to wean the industry off these fossil fuel subsidies; as well as launching new work to identify additional environmental goods and services to help us all tackle the climate change challenge in particular, and sustainability in general.

Finally, I want to talk about trade as a Force for Good.

As we build back better and get back to business, inclusive and sustainable trade will drive our global economic recovery and future prosperity. 

With APEC making up 47 percent of global trade, we need openness in our region to drive global growth.

The challenges of the pandemic have been large-scale. With the biggest economic contraction in 75 years, 81 million jobs have been lost across the region. 

The fragility of supply chains have been exposed, with some considering re-shoring.  The temptation to retreat into protectionism is clear.

Right from the start of the pandemic, New Zealand worked with other APEC economies to keep markets open. 

We worked to maintain trade in essential goods by unilaterally suspending tariffs on medical and PPE-related goods, and now we have done the same for vaccine related goods. 

We are working to enhance the trade architecture that underpins New Zealand’s export economy.

As I said earlier, I was proud to announce agreement in principle on a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom last month that creates new opportunities for our businesses. 

It was also our first to include specific commitments on climate change, another global challenge we all share, with provisions towards eliminating subsidies on fossil fuels and new rules to combat overfishing.

And I am pleased to say APEC has stood up and rejected protectionism in this crisis. The region has defied history by avoiding the scourge of beggar-thy-neighbour trade policies that choke-off trade and drive poverty by reducing economic activity, growth and employment across all our economies.

In fact the reverse is true.  This year, all APEC economies have worked to make trade easier as we battle the pandemic. 

Most have introduced paperless trading to get goods across borders easier – that saves money and time for all businesses. 

We also secured agreement to accelerate border clearance procedures, and like us, many APEC members have also cut tariffs on vaccines and other goods to fight the pandemic.

We have together committed to addressing barriers to those services such as logistical and transportation, that are needed to distribute vaccines and other essential goods. 

Crucially, all of us have explicitly rejected a race to the bottom by avoiding competitive devaluations.

These are remarkable, history defying, achievements during a time of global crisis.

It’s been an honour to reflect with you on a tough year, as we look to the future, and work hard to generate further opportunity for partnership – whatever the future may hold.

I look forward to our continued work together.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.