Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 11

April 18, 2013

Mahendra Siregar, Indonesia's Vice Minister of Finance addressing APEC Dialogue on investment

After the long and patiently synchronised sequence of meetings up to the CTI at the weekend, Monday and Tuesday provided a chance to explore themes close to Indonesia’s heart – Monday a workshop on Infrastructure Development and Investment, and Tuesday on Connectivity.

Of course, both themes had threaded through many of the discussions of last week, but here was a chance to step back and explore the issues, and perhaps most important to explore how we in APEC might develop initiatives in these areas that could provide our Indonesian hosts with some deliverables for Bali.

The Infrastructure workshop was anchored by excellent presentations from Masuhiro Kawai from the Asian Development Bank, and Kamran Khan from the World Bank, who built proposals for an “APEC Infrastructure Roadmap”. Much energy was spent exploring why it proves so hard to attract enough funding for long-gestation infrastructure projects, and why the private sector is so reluctant to develop PPPs. Kamran Khan was very firm: “The shortage is not money: the shortage is bankable projects.” The session’s moderator put it another way: PPPs stood not for Public Private Partnerships but for Properly Prepared Proposals – and these were not common enough. Kamran Khan was making a good point, but of course he was exaggerating to provide emphasis to the challenge of structuring projects that prove attractive to private sector participation. Of course, there is a shortage of money – and this had been part of the reason for ABAC to have organized last week’s Asia Pacific Financial Forum in Sydney: our capital markets are shallow, and not well developed to attract corporate and pooled funds, or even personal savings. But alongside this, there is inadequate capacity to create, prepare, and execute bankable infrastructure projects

This session gave Alex Parle and I a chance to brief on ABAC’s investment-related activities – reporting back on the APFF, talking about the Asia Pacific Infrastructure Partnership Task Force activities, on the Marshall School work this year, and of course on the US-driven foreign investment “checklist”.  There was keen interest in our ABAC activity, and as they recognized how much of our activity is tailored to finance officials and their track of meetings, rather than to our trade and investment officials, there was refreshed concern to bring finance and trade officials together more regularly and systematically in APEC. We are tasked to bring to Medan a presentation on outcomes from the Sydney APFF meeting, and on the “checklist” too.

Tuesday’s workshop on Connectivity divided itself into Indonesia’s three themes – physical connectivity (a re-run of Monday’s infrastructure funding discussions), institutional connectivity (a discussion on regulatory coherence), and people-to-people connectivity. I was corralled into this third track, dominated by educators focused on regional education initiatives, to raise our long-expressed concern over poor management of labour movement around the region, and the emergence of increasingly serious skills shortages. For years, the issue of labour mobility has been a taboo subject among some APEC officials, so it was pleasing to feel Indonesia’s serious interest in “mainstreaming” the issue. With our skills mapping project, being driven by the Australian Government, coming close to completion, it may just be possible to begin to make some progress on the labour mobility issue – after so many years of frustration and faltering progress.

One development that has helped us here is the Travel Facilitation Initiative, and the calls for special “APEC Business Travel Card” equivalents for special groups like Emergency Responders. As the TFI develops the concept of a “Trusted Traveller”, then the possibility at last arises of a much larger community of travelers able to move less painfully through immigration queues. There just seems to be a convergence of issues here that provide a more sympathetic environment for serious attention to be paid to the many challenges of properly managing the movement of temporary workers around the region – whether these are nurses or engineers or architects. After working on this issue for over six years, encouragement at last.

* Read post from Surabaya


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