APEC 2021: The Kiwi women moving the world forward at Apec 2021 (NZ Herald)

APEC 2021: The Kiwi women moving the world forward at Apec 2021 (NZ Herald)

Women’s economic empowerment has been a key pillar of Apec’s work, and since New Zealand last hosted Apec two decades ago, has made significant gains.

Economies across Apec have worked together to promote those with “untapped economic potential” — people who have faced barriers to full economic participation — to provide the energy and vision for future growth.

A key focus of this work has been addressing the structures that hold back women’s full economic participation. While there is still significant progress to be made, as this year’s host New Zealand is leading the way with three women — Andrea Smith, Barbara Chapman, and Rachel Taulelei — holding pivotal roles to deliver the year’s event.

Andrea Smith

One of the key diplomats leading New Zealand’s year as Apec host is Andrea Smith, Apec deputy secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

She has been in the role since 2017, and in that time has seen events that have put New Zealand’s hosting of Apec at risk — including the fire at the Sky City International Convention Centre fire where the CEO Summit was originally to be held, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which ground travel to a halt and forced Apec to go fully virtual.

Smith says that as host, New Zealand is at the leading edge of shaping the agenda for the Asia-Pacific and has “skin in the game”.

“Fourteen of our top 20 export markets are Apec members, including the three largest economies in the world — the United States, China and Japan — and 18 of our 19 free trade agreements are with Apec partners.” says Smith.

APEC 2021: Think Apec on Zoom is wild? Try Russia in 2012 (NZ Herald)

APEC 2021: Think Apec on Zoom is wild? Try Russia in 2012 (NZ Herald)

I was a participant in Apec’s Voices of the Future in 2012, held in Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east. The world looked considerably different back then.

Hu Jintao addressed the CEO Summit as President of China, Hillary Clinton gave a speech as US Secretary of State, on behalf of then-President Obama who was campaigning for the upcoming election, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was part of an education panel discussion, before having to depart early after of the death of her father.

As a New Zealand Voices of the Future delegate, I spent time with Prime Minister Sir John Key just ahead of his bilateral with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two were set to discuss the free trade agreement between New Zealand and Russia (negotiations were suspended in 2014).

Key spoke candidly about what it was like to represent New Zealand, a small economy, as an equal at the Apec table and engage with the world’s most powerful leaders.

Of course, one of the highlights of travelling to Apec was the cultural immersion and the people I met.

Russia went all out hosting Apec — US$21 billion was spent getting the city ready for the summit, vodka and caviar were prominent features at networking events, and a US$9 million firework display at the closing ceremony was one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.

At the summit’s gala dinner, I was introduced to the father of one of the Russian Voices of the Future participants. He was surrounded by bodyguards, and, unbeknown to me, was the Russian Energy minister.

I gave him my last remaining gift from NZ — an Ecoya candle. In exchange, he reached into his jacket pocket and handed me a large gold coin, minted to commemorate the new 1800km-long gas pipeline to Vladivostok.

Fast-forward nine years and it is NZ’s turn to host Apec. Things look so different now, with the pandemic requiring the summit to be delivered live over a virtual platform.

This year, I am the content producer for the Apec CEO Summit, as well as MC for the Voices of the Future programme. While the pandemic has meant attendees miss out on a visit to New Zealand, technological developments allow them to still experience NZ’s characteristic values of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga — a shared sense of humanity and connectedness — and work together on the issues that matter to them.

In 2012, when I helped write a declaration to Apec leaders on the issues we were most concerned about as future leaders, I was nominated by my peers to present our work, which was broadcast live on Russian TV. I spoke about the opportunity for SMEs to transform the economy of the Apec region, and encouraged leaders to support smaller organisations to grow. While the process of writing the declaration was a good one, I doubt Putin ever saw it.

This year feels like the dawn of a new era, in many ways, in digital diplomacy. As Apec chair, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will spend time next week with Voices of the Future delegates, receiving their declaration and hearing what matters to them, ahead of her meeting with leaders of the 21 Apec economies.

It is the next generation, after all, who are the biggest stakeholders in the work that Apec is doing.