Structural reform initiatives moved to the center stage at APEC. These initiatives have built on the Economic Committee's success in raising awareness of the significance of "behind-the-border" policies for growth and regional economic integration. This recognition was highlighted by APEC Leaders' in Sydney last year when they welcomed efforts to intensify work on the Leaders' Agenda to Implement Structural Reform (LAISR). With this strong endorsement, the Economic Committee initiated some important and concrete steps toward progressing the LAISR agenda during 2008.

There are strong complementarities between the work of APEC's Committee on Trade and Investment, the Economic Committee and the Finance Ministers' Process. Structural reform and trade and investment policies intersect to reinforce their respective roles of promoting efficient markets, economic integration and improved productivity. Sound structural reform policies also promote greater resilience to adverse goods market, commodity market and financial market shocks and therefore also help reinforce sound macroeconomic conditions.

Coherence between these three components of APEC's economic agenda is important to ensure they reinforce their contributions to the common goals of high productivity growth, high employment and high living standards in the region.

Senior Officials' Policy Dialogue on Structural Reform

Peru's theme for APEC 2008, "A New Commitment to the Development of the Asia Pacific", has provided an excellent platform for the Economic Committee to undertake important initiatives. In February 2008, a Senior Officials' (SOM) Policy Dialogue on Structural Reform was held in Lima, Peru. This dialogue examined the links between "behind the border" microeconomic policies, economic growth and macroeconomic stability. Keynote speakers from the OECD, World Bank, the US, New Zealand and Peru, as well as business representatives, discussed the benefits of undertaking structural policy reforms, priorities for the region, the political economy challenges, and ways to approach these often complex reforms that range from regulatory reform and improving public sector performance management to creating 'one-stop-shops' for business licensing and to improving competition laws.

The dialogue played an important role in raising awareness among experts, businesspeople and officials from around the region. Discussion centered on the key benefits of structural reform, tools to implement it, and how political economy challenges can be overcome.

Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting

Insights from that dialogue fed into the first ever Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting (SRMM) held in Melbourne, Australia in August. Hosted by Australia, the SRMM provided a forum in which Ministers could share experiences on the benefits and political challenges of structural reform in the context of domestic economic, political and social conditions.

Ministers also looked at how appropriately targeted and sequenced regulatory reform can improve the quality of regulation and the economy more generally.

The Joint Ministerial Statement issued at the conclusion of the meeting encouraged APEC fora to work together to advance structural reform initiatives. The key deliverables from the meeting included:

  • endorsing a Good Practice Guide on Regulatory Reform; tasking the APEC Policy Support Unit to undertake necessary research on key elements of the LAISR agenda;

  • reiterating the need for practical support to member economies to successfully undertake structural reform; and

  • supporting the voluntary reviews or self-reviews of member economies' institutional frameworks that support structural reform.

APEC Economic Policy Report 2008

The APEC Economic Policy Report 2008, which will be presented to APEC Leaders in November, concentrates on structural reform issues, notably on this year's theme of competition policy.

The report shares lessons about how APEC economies have adopted and are enforcing competition policy, it highlights achievements and activities by APEC in competition policy, and it helps formulate the focus of future competition policy work.

The Report will provide a useful reference for Leaders, Ministers, and various committees on the role of competition policy in promoting structural reform. This is a collaborative effort by APEC economies to identify the economy-specific and cross-cutting competition policy issues in the region. The 2009 report will focus on regulatory policy.

Economic Committee 2009

2009 looks set to continue the Economic Committee's good progress on structural reform. At the Committee's August meeting in Peru, officials endorsed several important initiatives to implement in its work program in 2009, including: a seminar on regulatory reform in enhancing the domestic business environment; the 5th APEC training course on competition policy; an APEC training course on corporate governance; and a seminar on corporate governance and corporate social responsibility for small and medium enterprises.

My term as Economic Committee Chair will draw to a close at the end of the year, with Japan's Dr Takashi Omori taking over as Chair for the 2009-10 term. I am delighted that Dr Omori is committed to progressing initiatives under the ambitious multi-year work program for the Economic Committee to implement LAISR. Singapore, host economy in 2009, has also indicated that its policy priorities for APEC 2009 will include structural reform as a key pillar of regional economic integration.

Written by Professor Bob Buckle who is the Chair of the APEC Economic Committee. The Committee is charged with the responsibility for leading and coordinating APEC's structural reform work program. Professor Buckle is also Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Commerce at Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand.