It is my pleasure to attend this second meeting of APEC Health Ministers. I look forward to working with you as we seek to achieve successful outcomes that will benefit the APEC region
The 2nd APEC Health Ministers Meeting is taking place at a very important time for APEC and the regional economy as APEC seeks to reinvigorate itself as the pre-eminent forum for promoting economic growth and cooperation in the region. Indeed APEC Leaders in Ha Noi last November, in instructing member economies to continue to work on APEC reform and to become more efficient and results-oriented, emphasized the need for the organization to continue to meet new challenges and opportunities in a rapidly changing environment
Health-related issues are one such set of challenges since they pose a real threat to the growth and prosperity of APEC economies; and APEC Leaders have placed preparedness against disease outbreaks and pandemics as one of their key priorities. In order to put these issues - and the work of this meeting - into a broader APEC context, I wish now to outline APEC's key priorities this year, to give you an understanding of where health issues fit into the APEC agenda
Strengthening the Multilateral Trading System
APEC will continue to do everything it can to strengthen the multilateral trading system and to bring the Doha negotiations to a successful conclusion. For APEC economies, which account for more than half of world trade, the WTO remains the primary mechanism by which we aim to achieve free and open trade, and all of us have a very real interest in its success
APEC is also developing a more coherent and transparent framework for bilateral FTAs and regional trade agreements. These are important mechanisms for APEC member economies not only to strengthen the multilateral trading system, but also to enhance regional economic integration. Ten years ago there were only three intra-APEC FTAs - now there are 20 and at least a dozen under development. To ensure more comprehensive, transparent and high-quality agreements, APEC has developed a series of model measures that serve as a reference to ensure transparency and clarity in the negotiation of FTAs and RTAs. Six of these model measures were developed in 2006 and more are planned for 2007
New Ways to Promote Regional Economic Integration
This year APEC is also exploring new ways of promoting regional economic integration. Last November APEC Leaders asked officials to prepare a study on ways to promote regional economic integration, including a Free Trade Area in the Asia Pacific as a long-term prospect. Economic integration has, of course, always been a key objective of APEC but this is the first time this issue has been on the formal Leaders agenda and the report will be completed in time to be presented to Leaders when they meet in Sydney in September.
Structural Reform - Behind the Borders
As we seek to deepen and intensify economic integration in the APEC region, we are hearing from business people that while reducing tariffs and other border barriers remain very important to them this is not enough to secure the fuller regional economic integration that business is seeking. What business is looking for is deeper structural reform within domestic APEC economies to make them more transparent and efficient, and less bureaucratic, costly and burdensome for business. Consequently APEC is giving high priority this year to addressing these behind-the-border barriers to trade and investment. In particular APEC is looking at ways to improve domestic investment environments, standards and conformance, competition policy, public sector and corporate governance, financial flows and strengthening economic legal infrastructure.
Energy Security and Climate Change
A major issue that has very rapidly emerged at the top of APEC Leaders' priorities this year, and into the future, is to develop a coherent regional policy response to one of the major challenges now facing APEC member economies, namely the inter-related issues of energy security, the environment and climate change. APEC economies account for 60 per cent of global energy demand and include the world's four largest energy consumers, as well as some major energy producers. These issues were discussed in detail in Darwin last week at the 8th APEC Energy Ministers Meeting and have been flagged as one of the highest priorities for Leaders in September.
APEC Reform
As I mentioned at the beginning of my presentation, APEC Leaders have highlighted APEC reform as a key priority. Reforms to ensure that the organization remains relevant, effective and responsive to the needs of the region and its stakeholders are being closely examined in 2007. Strengthening the role of the APEC Secretariat, particularly to give it a research and analysis capability, and having a close look at the structure and function of its many APEC fora with a view to improving coordination among them are just some of the areas being addressed.
Human Security/Health Issues
The final priority area that I would like to discuss - human security - relates directly to this meeting. APEC governments and their business partners recognize that, apart from the devastating human consequences of serious and destabilizing incidents affecting human security, there would be serious economic losses, as confidence and efforts to achieve more open trade and investment were undermined. The activities of terrorists, natural disasters and outbreaks of disease all pose a threat to regional economic growth and stability.
As we saw in 2003 with the SARS epidemic, the cross-border outbreak of a serious infectious disease can cause widespread damage to people and businesses in disparate locations around the globe.
Businesses in the APEC region are extremely concerned to ensure preparedness against human security incidents, whether they involve terrorists, natural disasters or outbreaks of disease, and many of them are working closely with APEC member economies to develop joint strategies and best practices to ensure safety and security, business continuity and economic viability. The importance of these in relation to health-related incidents was, of course, highlighted at last year's Ministerial Meeting on Avian and Influenza Pandemics in Danang. Indeed, providing a framework for building such public-private sector partnerships, is one of APEC's greatest strengths. As will be discussed at this meeting, the sharing of knowledge and resources between business and government is essential when it comes to preventing international health crises.
Leaders and Ministers have said on a number of occasions that maintaining a healthy environment and ensuring a policy focus on the quality of life of our citizens are essential for ensuring sustainable economic growth. For this reason, this meeting is important for the broader APEC agenda. Many of the issues to be discussed here pose some of the most serious threats to the growth and stability of our regional economy.
Since the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the consequential formation of the APEC Health Taskforce, health issues have assumed high prominence on the APEC agenda. While APEC's work in areas such as HIV/AIDS, SARS, Avian Influenza and other infectious diseases often receive the greatest media coverage, we are also active in the less dramatic, but nonetheless important, areas of enhancing the delivery of healthcare in APEC member economies. Efforts to expand cooperation among healthcare service accreditation organizations in the region and exploring ways to better use improved information and communications technologies to deliver healthcare, are just some of the areas in which APEC has been pro-active. APEC fora such as the Health Task Force, the Industrial Science and Technology Working Group and the Life Sciences Innovation Forum have been working on practical ways to share knowledge and research for improving healthcare protection.
As a reflection both of the significance of health-related issues and the fact that there are no short-term solutions to them, APEC senior officials recently endorsed recommendation, that will be considered by the APEC Ministerial Meeting in Sydney in September, to upgrade the status of the Health Taskforce to a working group. This will place it on the same footing as other well-established APEC working groups, and will enable the group to plan and develop longer term health strategies with greater confidence.
This is the fifth APEC ministerial level meeting held this year. Already, Mining Ministers have made progress in breaking down the barriers to trade and investment in the minerals and metals sector. Transportation Ministers have agreed to address measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as well as launched initiatives to reduce the number of road death and injuries. Ministers responsible for Small and Medium Enterprises, covering an issue relevant to this meeting today, released a Pandemic Flu Planning Guide specifically intended for use by small businesses. Last week APEC Energy Ministers Meeting Ministers agreed that coordinated action is required to deploy cleaner, more efficient and sustainable energy technologies. In coming weeks Finance Ministers and Trade Ministers will meet in the lead-up to the final Leaders Week meetings in early September.
Let me close by noting that the theme of this ministerial meeting this week - "Building on Our Investment: a sustainable and multi-sectoral approach to pandemic preparedness and emerging health threats" - mirrors the cross sectoral approach that has been undertaken in previous ministerial meetings held this year.
And while each sectoral ministerial meeting obviously focuses on issues specific to that sector, all strive to achieve the same goal, namely how best to ensure a safe, secure, open and prosperous economic environment in the Asia Pacific region.
I wish you success and hope this meeting will produce tangible deliverables to the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in September 2007.