Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 3

April 10, 2013


I walked yesterday into an Investment Experts Group riven with angst. I had expected simply to deliver our now-routine ABAC presentation on the investment-related discussions of ABAC2 which confirmed an apparently ever-rising interest in investment-related issues at the heart of our trade and investment liberalization and facilitation agenda.

Instead, I was immediately briefed by Australian convenor John Kitchen that the afternoon was going to be devoted (after the ABAC presentation) to a heart-searching discussion over whether the IEG should continue to exist. The concern is a “lack of intensity”, with economies having fallen into a habit of sending junior officials who lacked the authority to deliver on things like the Investment Facilitation Action Plan (IFAP): “The right people attending the wrong meeting,” according to John. He asked whether Government spending cuts across the region since the onset of recession in 2008 had caused the wasting away of substantive, senior input? He noted past effectiveness in linking with – and briefing – top officials from UNCTAD, the OECD and asked why such linkages had fallen away.

He said the group faces two options: reinvigorate, or tell CTI that IEG will shut up shop. The possibility of folding into the Group on Services was mentioned. So too was the half-way house option of holding fewer meetings. The over-riding message was clear: “If you don’t put the effort in, you won’t get anything out.”

Rather than put officials on the spot there and then, he decided to close the meeting, point people in the direction of the evening’s IEG dinner, and reconvene early on Wednesday to feed back views – if possible returning with more senior officials.

One wild thought occurred as this hand-wringing discussion occurred: would this grouping not be a wonderful candidate for conversion into a new “Policy Partnership” like the PPFS on Food Security and the PPSTI on Science and Technology? This is surely an area of pivotal interest and concern to ABAC and the region’s business community. There are clearly a large number of business figures – including ABAC members – who would have a direct interest in forging a closer institutional input to APEC on investment-related issues. The APIP forged by ABAC, and the APFF now in process in Sydney, are already templates of a kind for such a government-private sector partnership. ABAC might be pursued to think about this more specifically.

One note of caution, of course, is that our initial experience of how to forge business-government engagement through the PPFS and the PPSTI is underwhelming. I detect little confidence that the template as currently constructed is working. I think this is going to need close ABAC attention soon, but perhaps an Investment-related PP built on foundations already well constructed by ABAC could provide wider insights on how business input to APEC officials can be made more effective.

* Read post from Surabaya


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