My favourite coffee shop is the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (CBTL), not because of their coffee but because I absolutely adore their Banana Chocolate Muffin. It’s flakey on the outside and moist on the inside. You can really taste the banana goodness in it. I never really realised how perfect a pair banana and chocolate makes until I took a bite of this muffin.
CBTL is “born and brewed” in California, USA. Other American enterprises that have become popular among Filipinos are Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Forever 21, among others. One of the reasons why these American companies, and other foreign-based ones, were able to set up shop here in the Philippines is because of trade agreements such as those discussed during APEC Meetings.
APEC stands for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). There are 21 member-economies under APEC: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, People’s Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States of America, and Vietnam.
A little trivia: They are referred to as “member-economies” and not countries under APEC because the meetings are non-political. This is the reason why there are no flags displayed during the meetings as well.
According to Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) Chair Usec. Laura del Rosario, there are only two important economic meetings in the world – G20 and APEC.
What happens during APEC meetings is that the ministers and key officials of these 21 economies come together and talk about common critical issues across various sectors (climate change, trade, structural reform, disaster, energy, transportation, economy, business, etc) and hammer out deals and landmark agreements addressing these issues.
Promoting free trade across these economies is one of the cornerstone principles of APEC. Let’s say there is a company in Canada that is interested to do business in Singapore. APEC will look into ways how to make it easier for the Canadian company to do business in Singapore, and expect the same ease in doing business in other member-economies. They call this “trade facilitation.”
Another example is if a member-economy gets hit by a disaster, how can the other member-economies help? What if that affected country has laws and policies that make it hard for the other economies to help them? Remember when Yolanda/Haiyan hit the Philippines? One issue that came up was that foreign donations pouring into the country had to be taxed because there is an existing law that mandates that. This is covered by what they term as “structural reform.” (A little confession: I initially thought structural reform referred to reforms to be made on physical structure. It actually has something to do with processes. Silly me.)
There is more to APEC than just this, of course. What I’m writing here is my own watered-down, not-so-good version of APEC For Dummies. (I Googled for one but couldn’t find any.) You can visit the APEC website for more information. There is a primer there available for download in seven Philippine languages. Take your pick! (Here is the link for the English version.)
Our office is closely involved in facilitating the media coverage of the APEC 2015 Meetings in Cebu, and this is how I got my feet wet with APEC. Prior to this, the only exposure I had to trade agreements and economic policies was when I spent a week in New Delhi and Bangalore in India covering the New Delhi Dialogue in 2012. But despite all that I learned about trade and economy in that experience, it was only during APEC that I appreciated how important these intra-regional agreements are.
The 21 economies take turns hosting the APEC meetings, and 2015 is the Philippines’ turn to host. The theme for the Philippines’ hosting is: “Building Inclusive Economies, Building a Better World.” Some of the key points tackled under this theme are Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), sustainable and resilient communities, education.
All throughout this year, the APEC 2015 National Organising Committee (NOC) set up the meetings in 10 selected areas outside of Manila to help make sure that the delegates can get to experience why it’s more fun in the Philippines. In addition to Manila, there was Iloilo, Boracay, Clark, Bataan, Bacolod, Subic, Pampanga, Tagaytay, Laoag, and (because I’m shamelessly biased) the best venue of all – Cebu.
Cebu’s hosting of the meetings have brought a lot of benefit for the Cebuanos, both short-term and long-term. Radisson Blu, which was one of the hotels to host some of the meetings, announced that they will release an extra bonus of P43T to each of their 200+ employees after they collected more than P10-M in service charge alone due to the APEC meetings. The hosting also helped increase the income of drivers and other front liners in the tourism industry because the tourism department arranged tours for the foreign delegates who wanted to hop around the tourist spots in Cebu and neighboring islands. Not to mention the farmers from whom the hotels bought their food supplies to feed the delegates and their guests, or the craft industries from whom the delegates bought their accessories and souvenir items.
With all those benefits in mind, I’m sure the Cebuanos can bear the inconveniences caused by APEC such as the traffic re-routing. Although on second thought, because of the increased policy visibility to secure the delegates, PNP reported a drop in crimes in metro Cebu. This is like during Manny Pacquiao’s fights.
The first leg of the Cebu meetings started on August 22 until Sept. 11, and the next round is on October 8 to 15. The October meetings is the last round before the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Manila in November, which is the highlight and the year-long meeting.
The Cebu provincial government prepared a briefer on Ten Things To Know About APEC (this is the closest to an APEC for Dummies that you can get) and it’s posted on their website. If you have to know just 10 things about it, go check it out.