APEC 2017 Second Senior Officials Meetings (SOM2) - Blog 1

May 10, 2017

Blog 1 - May 10, 2017

By David Dodwell

Hanoi’s National Convention Centre Complex is an awesome mausoleum of a place a little bit reminiscent of the Diaoyutai that provides meeting facilities for China’s top leaders in the heart of Beijing. Lakes and villas and planted gardens provide an unreal tranquility, in such contrast to the teeming unruly combat on the streets outside.

I don’t know whether I will regret it, but I have opted to stay at a lovely little boutique place right in the swarming heart of Hanoi’s old quarter, rather than in the magisterial JW Marriott that sits on the edge of the Convention Centre Complex, and is clearly the recommended base from which to tackle the Convention Complex every morning through the coming weeks’ Senior Officials cluster. Instead of a 10 minute stroll into the Convention Centre, I face daily scary warfare with the city’s prodigious population of motorcycles. The compensation will be a daily retreat into the surreally colourful squalor of Hanoi’s old quarter. If APEC’s mission is truly to secure inclusive growth, and to reduce the massive inequalities that mark most of the region’s major cities, then the vibrant squalid heart of Hanoi is surely the place from which to frame your thoughts at the start of every day.

This second Senior Official cluster in Vietnam’s year as chair of APEC seems a tentative, uncertain affair. The discussions of the region’s top trade officials as they prepare for the meeting later in the month of APEC’s Ministers Responsible for Trade, should be among the most important we have had in years. At no point in APEC’s 28 year history has the prevailing confidence in the overall benefits of globalization and liberal trade and investment been so under challenge. At no point has it been so important for our trade leaders to reaffirm our certainty that openness has brought – and continues to bring – huge net benefits to the region. Yet with Trump’s administration boasting the benefits of protection, committed to putting America First, and demanding renegotiation of most of the significant trade agreements forged over the past 40 years, it is difficult to predict how strong and clear a message our trade ministers will be willing to give. Will pusillanimity prevail? In two weeks we will know.

Meanwhile, the white marble grandeur of the national Convention Centre seems to have swallowed and subdued the officials that have arrived so far. The cluster is set to be modest by comparison by many in previous years – perhaps 60 meetings or so. Perhaps most significant, over 12 of these are devoted to Human Resources issues – critically important, but hardly likely to set media hearts racing. There will be discussions about discrimination against women in the economy, on the challenges of providing decent employment opportunities for the disabled, on region-wide recognition of skills and qualifications, on a proposed “Labour Mobility Framework” to improve the way we manage the movement of international workers around the region. Most important of all will be a “High Level Dialogue” focused on identifying the skills our workforces will need as the digital revolution envelops us.

Today we plunge into improving the way we employ people with disability. If the traffic to the Convention Centre from Hanoi’s old quarter is as torrid today as it was yesterday, I may be among those in need of sympathetic help.


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