Your Excellency Mr. James Marape,
Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to extend a warm welcome to all participants in the Asia Pacific Business Forum (APBF). I would like to thank the Department of Commerce and Industry, and Investment Promotion Authority and Business Council of Papua New Guinea for hosting and jointly organizing this Forum with UN ESCAP.
This year marks two important milestones for the APBF: we celebrate its 15th anniversary and its first convening in the Pacific.
Innovative business solutions to sustainable development are nowhere more relevant than in the Pacific. This is subregion of great diversity and high geo-strategic importance. It faces several unique developmental challenges: small population sizes dispersed over vast areas, remoteness from major markets, limited export bases and extreme exposure to global environmental challenges, especially climate change. With these challenges in mind, this year’s Forum focuses on the opportunities and challenges for sustainable development in the non-urban Asia-Pacific, particularly in the Pacific islands.
Forward-thinking business solutions are critical to addressing the scale and complexity of the sustainability challenges facing these communities. Yet there is also reason for optimism. We are witnessing unprecedented leadership and innovation driven by businesses. For instance, the rapidly growing awareness of plastic pollution has led to a wave of private sector initiatives across the globe. We need more momentum in areas like this to support progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As the only public-private forum in the Asia-Pacific region, the APBF provides significant opportunities to build momentum for the private sector to contribute to accelerating sustainable development.
Allow me to highlight four key areas which you may wish to consider during today’s discussions.
First, connectivity is an enabler of development. Enhanced connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region will help cultivate solutions for shared regional challenges, such as rapid urbanization, energy security and rising inequalities. Enhancing connectivity can revitalize economic growth and create new development opportunities, which ultimately will better the lives of millions of people in the region, including in the Pacific. In practice, this means developing better inter-continental linkages through extensive investments in infrastructure and productivity, as well as reducing trade costs related to tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and behind-the-border regulations.
Connectivity is especially relevant in the Pacific context, where the challenges associated with geographic isolation and remoteness have hindered trade and investment with each other and with major international markets. Enhancing connectivity in this subregion demands increased investments in transport networks and ICT infrastructure. Key development priority areas must be the improvement of physical connectivity through sustainable air and maritime links, and digital connectivity and broadband access in rural and remote areas. These efforts must simultaneously be matched with increased action to improve trade through harnessing the potential of e-commerce.
Second, improving support for SMEs.
SMEs account for more than 95% of domestic enterprises in Asia and Pacific. Yet poor access to markets, finance, and difficult business environments are holding back their full potential. Remedying these systemic constraints means improving the operating conditions and financial infrastructure of SMEs. Other critical enablers for SME growth are improvements in ICT infrastructure and supporting the growth of e-commerce. In the Pacific, e-commerce has vast potential to expand SMEs access to markets and better integrate regional and global value chains.
ESCAP is actively engaged with governments across our region to help them create better operating conditions for SMEs. For instance, we have developed an SME Policy Handbook to guide policy makers in developing an enabling and supporting environment for SMEs, and a second edition of that Handbook will be available next year. We are also currently implementing capacity building projects to strengthen SME access to markets in Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. This work focuses on developing country tailored master plans into global and regional value chains in each of these countries.
Third, no discussion of improving the environments for SMEs is complete without recognizing the importance of economically empowering women owners and managers of SMEs.
Unlocking the potential of women-owned business represents a powerful opportunity for greater economic growth and leadership in our economies. ESCAP is working with the Government of Canada to seize it. This year we are launching a five-year project in six member States aimed at catalyzing women’s entrepreneurship. The project will support the development of a policy and business environment that enhances women entrepreneurs’ access to capital through innovative financing mechanisms and increases their ability to use ICT and digital solutions. The project has already been launched in Cambodia and will soon be launched in Fiji and Samoa.
Fourth, this year’s APBF is taking place in the Pacific, where the effects of climate change are more apparent than anywhere else in the world. I hope discussions today can focus on innovative business solutions which can help us adapt to and mitigate its impact. I can only agree with the United Nations Secretary General who has described climate change as a very real existential threat. Businesses and industries have a key role in implementing technologies and innovations which must be part of our concerted effort to overcome this challenge. Establishing enabling environments in which businesses can shift to cleaner growth is a prerequisite for such solutions to come to fruition.
In addition to private sector partnership, there is a role for governments to support businesses adapt to climate change. While SMEs are particularly vulnerable to the risks of natural and human-made hazards, their awareness of and preparedness for disasters is low.
I look forward to hearing the examples and strategies that government and private sector representatives have established to adapt to and mitigate to climate change. I hope we can draw inspiration from these experiences take further concrete action to combat climate change.
We have a full and exciting programme today. I look forward to our discussions, and hope that these will lead to more business and investment in these areas.