Dodwell in SOM1 Moscow - Post 1

February 05, 2012

Russia’s welcome to the first Senior APEC Officials meetings of 2012 has been warm, but Moscow has not. Arriving in the bleak morning darkness with officials cheerfully telling us to wrap up because it is -21 degrees outside, one could only recall with fond affection the balmy Hawaiian weather that welcomed us to the APEC leaders meeting in November last year. Of course, the upside is that whenever you told colleagues that you were going to Honolulu to work, the response included winks, nudges, and sarcastic questions about whether you were taking a surfboard along, but when you told colleagues that you were visiting Moscow in February, they were in no doubt that you were in Moscow to work.

Moskva river, icelocked, alongside the World Trade Centre, setting for APEC meeting

Group Photo at SOM1 Moscow (Click here to enlarge the picture)

For many outside observers, APEC starts and ends with just one event – the  APEC Leaders Meeting every November, with its associated APEC CEO Forum. But for those of inside the process the Leaders Meeting is the culmination of a huge amount of work that starts every February with the Senior Officials Meetings. I say meetings, because these SOMs are actually “clusters” of anything up to 60 separate meetings on issues ranging from Foreign Investment and Customs Regimes to Human Resources Development and Services Liberalisation. These Senior Official “clusters” usually occur four times a year and this first – in Moscow – is important in setting the 2012 agenda for many of the region’s officials.

While the year’s first Senior Officials’ “cluster” began on January 30, it was only over the past weekend that large numbers have begun to arrive. And in fine APEC tradition, no concession was given to the weekend: the Business Mobility Group was earnestly at work through Saturday and will continue through to Tuesday: on Sunday, large numbers bundled into meetings on Intellectual Property protection, Human Resources Development, and the long-awaited steering group meeting to pave the launch of the Policy Partnership on Food Security – PPFS in APEC acronym-speak.

PPFS meeting at Moscow (Click here to enlarge the picture)

For members of the APEC Business Advisory Council, formation of the PPFS is a particularly important landmark, the culmination of more than 10 years of lobbying – first on the critical importance of giving priority to Food Security, and second, on the importance of including business executives with specialist knowledge of the food economy in the policy discussion process.

While Frank Ning, ABAC Member from China, was unable to get to Moscow to fill ABAC’s Co-Chair seat, ABAC was welcomed, and represented in force . Russia’s newly appointed chair of the PPFS, Sergey Aleksashenko, took a firm and disciplined hand to the agenda – unsurprisingly, he is from the private sector, Chairman of Russia’s United Grain Company. It was also good to see the co-Chair seats occupied – Prof Brad Fenwick from the US’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs representing last year’s APEC chair, and Dr Haryono, Director General of the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development representing next year’s APEC chair.

ABAC’s intervention triggered a long and animated discussion over the Steering Group’s priorities in Moscow, with early agreement that it was premature to talk about substantive food security issues: these are to be left to the first PPFS Plenary meeting, planned for SOM2 in Kazan (Russia’s capital of Tataristan, on the Volga half way between Moscow and the Caspian Sea) in May.

Member economies in attendance seemed strongly supportive of ABAC proposals - for each member economy to nominate up to three members to the PPFS (seeking a balance between people on the food supply side and companies on the demand side), and to get nominees’ names to APEC by March 1, so that they can be primed and ready to roll up sleeves on substantive issues by the time of the Plenary meeting in Kazan. Since this plenary is intended to feed straight into an Agriculture and Food Security Ministerial, there will in the next two months be huge pressure to discuss and agree an initial 2012 agenda and action plan. While it was encouraging to see such widespread support for ABAC’s suggestions, it was noteworthy that a number of very important farm economies were unable to attend: China, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Vietnam, for example. One way or another, we will need to move quickly to make sure that these member economies are comfortable with the mood of the meeting.

We were told that a letter will go out imminently to ABAC chair Ziyavudin Magomedov asking ABAC to garner nominations at high speed. For ABAC, it feels like a good start on a long-cherished initiative. Tomorrow (Monday) into Business Mobility Group, Agricultural Biotechnology and Standards & Conformance. All worthy stuff.

* Read Dodwell's latest post from SOM1 Moscow


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