By Dr Alan Bollard, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat
During the first APEC meetings in 2018 in Port Moresby, officials from around the Asia-Pacific expressed their sympathies for the victims of Papua New Guinea’s central highlands earthquake and desire for a rapid recovery.
By putting words into action, officials set the tone for the year’s APEC agenda.
Together, emergency management experts accelerated the buildup of early warning systems here and across APEC economies. Their aim is to raise preparedness and resilience as the threat natural disasters pose to people’s lives and livelihoods intensifies with the effects of climate change.
At the core of this initiative is the harnessing of digital innovation. To optimise the delivery of disaster alerts, officials are facilitating technology application and investment, including mobile network and app development, and linking monitoring and notification mechanisms in APEC.
The push to translate the digital revolution into practical advancements that promote sustainable growth and living standards in Papua New Guinea and around the Pacific Rim is the overarching theme of APEC’s unfolding work in 2018.
These efforts entail strengthening data sharing needed to fight corruption, stop illegal timber shipments and mitigate borderless health threats. They also involve aligning regulations and standards vital to supporting transportation, utility and network infrastructure development and interconnectivity.
Bringing Papua New Guineans and neighbours in APEC closer together stands to open a new world of opportunities. Among other things, it could mean wider and cheaper access to smart phones and wifi, greater availability of mobile banking and payment services, and, critically, business and job growth.
To make the most of these potential breakthroughs, officials took forward measures to identify and plug education and skills gaps vital to empowering people to work and thrive in the modern, digital economy. This drive extends to men and women in every city and village in Papua New Guinea and the region.
Improvements in connectivity and skillsets also have big implications for micro enterprises and the ability for anyone with a mobile phone to connect with buyers and sellers in other markets, build and showcase their brand, and even take advantage of intellectual property protections.
Producers of Wosera bilums, Sepik River masks and highlands coffee could not only expand their market reach in Port Moresby, for example. They could also link up with supply chain partners to reach customer bases in places such as Australia, China, Japan and the United States.
By the same token, eco-tourism providers in Kokopo, along the Kokoda Trail and elsewhere in Papua New Guinea could become better equipped to attract a new wave of visitors through digital channels and show them all that the “land of the unexpected” has to offer.
There is still much work ahead on each of these fronts. Up next, officials will reconvene in Port Moresby in May, culminating with a pivotal meeting of APEC trade ministers. No doubt, Papua New Guineans and people around the region will be watching and expecting more, impactful results.