Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 13

April 21, 2013

As our APEC sherpas girded their loins midweek for the Senior Officials Meeting, and the weekend’s Trade Minister meeting, so our ABAC focus turned to Services, and the two Dialogues that had been in preparation for two full months.

First, on Wednesday, was our ABAC-SOM Dialogue on Services, jointly arranged with PECC. The prime aim here was to inject the services liberalization imperative to the heart of APEC discussion, emphasizing as we did a year ago how services are pivotal to the efficient and competitive delivery of manufactured goods, just as they are important in their own right as a lubricant for trade and investment.

ABAC-SOM Dialogue on Services, jointly arranged with PECC on April 17

A Public Forum on Services organised on April 19, very well attended!

The second event, on Friday, was equally important – a public forum organized by ABAC Indonesia and the Indonesia Services Dialogue. In contrast to our SOM Dialogue on Wednesday, this was aimed at local businesses, and was alert to the reality that many small businesses in economies like Indonesia nurse big worries about opening the services sector up to international competition. Our main message here was that small local companies often pay very high prices for essential services like telecoms, legal services, accounting services, logistics and transport services etc… which are often highly protected. The result: they carry an unacceptable cost burden, which makes them uncompetitive if foreign companies enter the market, and unable to compete effectively in international markets.

Apart from strong sleeves-rolled-up support from ABAC Members – principally Anthony Nightingale, Wishnu Wardhana and Doris Hothe dialogues brought together strong teams of speakers both locally and internationally – from the WTO, from Washington’s Petersen Institute, and familiar colleagues from PECC like Jane Drake Brockman and Sherry Stephenson; and locally, Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan and leaders from the Indonesian Employers Association (APINDO).
Both events appeared to be highly successful : The SOM Dialogue was heavily attended by our APEC government officials, who engaged with marvelous energy – providing lots of insights over and above those embedded in the various presentations. It was good for once to see a Dialogue that was genuinely a dialogue, rather than the usual series of monologues from the podium. The task of opening up services to trade and investment will remain a long and challenging one, but real progress was made with officials on Wednesday.

There was standing-room-only attendance for the Public Forum – such a welcome sight when I recall the difficulties I face in getting audiences in Hong Kong to come talk about services liberalization. Despite some strong protectionist pressures at work in Indonesia ahead of next year’s Presidential elections, it was gratifying to see leading political figures like Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan, and Chatib Basri, Chair of the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, talking so passionately about the imperative to open up services.

Good foundations were laid for bringing more specific suggestions to the table on how and why to open up services. Our Senior Officials have already promised us a fresh Dialogue on Services next year. The challenge is to keep the pot boiling between now and then – not just with “feel good” discussion, but with specific initiatives. Our next opportunity to focus on this will be our ABAC3 meeting in Kyoto in July, but the stage has been set…

* Read post from Surabaya


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