APEC's efforts to achieve sustainable growth and equitable development in the Asia-Pacific region, to reduce economic disparities among APEC economies, and to improve economic and social well-being, have traditionally been implemented through capacity building activities.
In the APEC context, capacity building is defined as activities - for example workshops, training courses and seminars - that enable people, businesses and government departments to improve their skills and knowledge to better engage in trade and investment.
APEC has been engaged in capacity building work since 1993 and since then more than 1,200 projects have been completed.
Under the stewardship of Peru, and in accordance with the 2008 theme, "A New Commitment to Asia-Pacific Development," there has been a renewed focus within APEC on the implications of trade and on the inclusion of all sectors of society in the building of an Asia-Pacific community.
As APEC Secretariat Executive Director Ambassador Juan Carlos Capuñay explains, "We have recognized that for APEC to achieve its goals, we must also consider the social dimensions of trade. To the extent that people and innovation thrive from within solid economies, economies thrive on the innovation of people."
"Building capacity is therefore a priority since it constitutes the basis for economic development and technical cooperation," says Ambassador Capuñay.
Within APEC, member economies are at different stages of human resource, organizational, and legal and institutional framework development, resulting in many opportunities to learn from each others' experiences.
For that reason, capacity building projects can be initiated by members who have expertise they want to share, or by members looking to develop particular skills.
Capacity Building Achievements
Capacity building efforts have touched every area of APEC activity. But in recent years, as a response to the major issues faced by the region, projects have tended to focus on human security, trade and cyber security, environmentally sound growth, SMEs, and public-private partnerships.
"Over the last few years APEC economies have faced several significant shocks," explains Ambassador Capuñay. "Threats to human security have affected both travel and trade. At the same time, health problems and natural disasters including tsunamis and hurricanes have had regional impacts."
As a result of increased terrorist activity and the resulting threats to human security APEC established the Counter-Terrorism Task Force (CTTF). The taskforce has since coordinated many capacity building programs including workshops aimed at counter-terrorism financing and trade recovery as well as the Secure Trade in the Asia-Pacific (STAR) initiative.
At this year's STAR Conference in Lima, Ambassador Capuñay noted some of the organization's many achievements: "STAR Conferences have included steps to advance compliance with international ship and port security standards; progress in implementing business mobility initiatives; the development of a Regional Movement Alert System; and cooperation for the issuance of machine readable travel documents."
Improving natural disaster management capabilities in the region has also been tackled through capacity building. Reinvigorated in the wake of the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, the Task Force For Emergency Preparedness (TFEP) manages these activities.
In addition to upgrading practical skills through workshops on issues like damage assessment techniques, the TFEP, in conjunction with other international organizations, is helping to develop a long-term strategic plan for disaster risk reduction and emergency preparedness response in the Asia-Pacific region.
Other threats to human health and the economic prosperity of the region, like avian flu and SARS, must by their very nature be dealt with on a regional and multilateral basis, and here the APEC Health Working Group (HWG) has stepped into the breach. The HWG works to build capacity in all member economies so that the region can mount a united defense against pandemics that don't respect any borders. Important projects in this area have included an APEC Capacity Building Seminar on Avian Influenza and a Pandemic Risk Communication Workshop.
APEC: Responsiveness through Capacity Building
Most importantly, APEC recognizes that capacity building is a long term, continuous process and that it must always be prepared to take action on new issues that arise.
The recent and unprecedented economic crisis that the world faces is an example of APEC's responsiveness through capacity building. In August, the APEC Economic Committee identified structural reform as a prerequisite for the region's emergence from the crisis, and it resolved that capacity building projects will be most helpful to economies seeking to achieve the necessary reforms.
"In response to the concern of some economies that a lack of education - particularly among developing economies - could serve as an impediment to structural reforms, the 2009 agenda will emphasize capacity building in aspects of good regulatory, competition and governance structures," says the Committee.
APEC capacity building initiatives can equip the region's population with the right skills, help businesses to adapt and thrive in new environments, and assist members to develop long-term strategic policies to ensure that the benefits of trade and investment continue to flow to the region and across development divides.