Successful Conference on Aid for Trade in Asia and the Pacific
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(From L-R): Mr Robert Jauncey, ADB's Regional Director South Pacific Sub-regional Office, H.E John Feakes, Australian High Commissioner, Mr Bambang Susantono, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President, and Mr Shaheen Ali, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), Department of Foreign Affairs, Government of Australia (DFAT) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in collaboration with the Pacific Centre for Economic Policy & Modeling (CEP&M) and the School of Economics (SOEc) of The University of the South Pacific (USP) successfully organised a two-day Aid-for-Trade Conference from 7–8 February 2018 at the University’s Laucala Campus, Suva.
The purpose of this conference was to discuss the key findings of the ADB’s biennial Aid for Trade Report 2017 in the lead up to the next Global Review in 2019.
The conference also discussed major obstacles of trade facilitation and modalities for dealing with Aid for Trade issues affecting the Pacific region.
It brought together a wide range of stakeholders, including policy makers, academics, researchers, development partners, regional and international agencies, private sector and the civil society.
In his welcome address, Professor Rajesh Chandra, USP Vice-Chancellor and President stated that USP hosted this conference in view of partnership recently established between the ADB and the University for high-quality policy relevant production and exchange of knowledge
He noted that connectivity, technology and smart-trade facilitation remain important dimensions of how the Pacific region could engagement with the rest of the world.
Professor Chandra argued that both international experiences of countries and economic theory suggest trade promotes economic success and thanked the ADB for allowing the University to be an integral part of the conference.
Professor Chandra also highlighted how the University continues to enjoy a very cordial relationship with the ADB and anticipated enhanced collaborations between the two institutions for the future.
His Excellency, Mr John Feakes, the Australian High Commissioner provided a development partner’s perspective to the participants and commented that trade was central to Australia’s ongoing engagement in the Pacific, highlighted by the most recent signing of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus) in Tonga last year.
H.E Feakes added that the ADB Report highlights unique challenges in the Pacific Islands in overcoming the vast distances and higher transport costs, and it points to emerging solutions to these challenges.
H.E. Feakes mentioned that Australia is proud of its continued support to improve connectivity across the Pacific, including internet, telecommunications and mobile coverage.
He said that the Australian Government was also working with the ADB to extend the Trade Finance Programme in the Pacific which provides companies, including small and medium enterprises, financial support to engage in trade.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism of the Fijian Government, Mr Shaheen Ali, in his opening remarks, commended that the Conference was timely as it discussed the outcomes of the Aid for Trade initiatives presented in the ADB Report.
Mr Ali stated that whilst trade helped lift millions of people out of poverty worldwide, the benefits have not been felt equally among regions, countries and the people, especially those who are less able to adapt to change and competition.
Therefore, he argued it was important to ensure that countries had the right tools to compete globally.
He indicated that Aid for Trade could play an important role in providing targeted financial and technical assistance, institutional support and capacity building to overcome many of the binding constraints.
Mr Ali also noted that Aid for Trade should complement national development efforts, enable countries to become more competitive, diversify their economies, lessen vulnerabilities and boost productivity and capacity.
According to him, the Aid for Trade Report suggests that well-targeted interventions, coordination among implementing agencies and partnering institutions could make a significant difference to the cost and quality of trade and in promoting inclusive growth.
He urged all stakeholders to challenge the old paradigms of Aid for Trade and seek out-of-box-solutions for promoting trade integration and inclusive development in the Pacific through effective adoption of modern tools, such as digital commerce and connectivity.
Mr Bambang Susantono, the Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development at the ADB presented the key note address identifying how Aid for Trade could increase trade in services though regulatory reforms and modern trade facilitation such as paperless trade.
Mr Susantono added that the report would help policy makers target sectors to create jobs and reduce poverty, and better identify areas for policy actions under the Aid for Trade Initiative.
He highlighted that rapid digitalisation and growth of e-commerce offer historic opportunities for the Pacific to increase trade, tap into niche markets and promote inclusive growth.
“While Pacific nations have made great strides towards regulatory reforms of telecommunication services to enhance investment, much still needs to be done,” Mr Susantono said.
He further added that Aid for Trade has also been an important part of ADB’s support for regional cooperation and integration for ensuring sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, especially targeting infrastructure, energy and agriculture.
The conference concluded with a high level discussion on issues surrounding trade facilitation, modalities for sharing benefits of trade equitably, development of micro, small and medium enterprises, connectivity, institutional reforms and the role of private sector, donors/aid agencies, and multilateral development partners.
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