Papua New Guinea has taken up the role of host for the first time in 2018 after a quarter century of APEC membership. Long-time APEC point person for the emerging south Pacific economy and its veteran head of the Investment Promotion Authority, Ambassador Ivan Pomaleu, will play a central role in advancing the region’s trade and growth agenda as the Chair of APEC Senior Officials.
In an interview with the APEC Bulletin, Ambassador Pomaleu talked about the impact engagement in APEC has had for Papua New Guinea and the focus on connectivity, digital inclusion and climate challenges it will bring this year. He went on to describe his expectations for progress and the eye-opening perspective that Papua New Guinea will offer to APEC.
APEC Bulletin: Could you describe Papua New Guinea’s experience in APEC and why has it chosen to host in 2018?
Ambassador Pomaleu: Papua New Guinea considers itself privileged to be part of APEC, having joined in 1993. The important thing in terms of how we’ve benefitted from APEC is our subscription to the general notion of an open economy, certainly in relation to configuring best practice policies—trying to ensure a level playing field within our economy regarding how we facilitate trade and investment.
Issues such as infrastructure, institutional and people-to-people connectivity are particularly crucial for us in formulating trade and investment policies going forward. It is very important that we continue to recognize the influence that exists in being members of APEC and be able to have that membership influence some of our thinking.
Our choice to host APEC in 2018 is a recognition that there is still a lot that needs to be done and it is a gesture of commitment by our government to the APEC process and, indeed, to our membership. We hope to use our chairmanship as leverage to continue to align domestic policies that are consistent with conversations in APEC.
APEC Bulletin: How has work in APEC to advance regional integration and issues like connectivity impacted Papua New Guinea, and what do you see as the next steps?
Ambassador Pomaleu: The work that has come out of APEC has allowed investors to come on shore and be part of our business community. You really need to think in terms of what sort of structural reform and ease of doing business activities we’ve been doing and that have made it possible for new investments in Papua New Guinea. Those are pegged on important APEC principles.
There are emerging digital issues that we hope to take forward in 2018. That’s going to help us enormously in some of our own connectivity challenges, domestically. We certainly hope to spotlight some structural adjustments that are needed when we start thinking about how to make internet more accessible and cheaper.
There are obviously some other efforts in natural resources – for instance, addressing illegal logging – that are important to us, especially as an economy that continues to depend on extractive industries. Education and health are also priorities for us. Policy areas like these, we think, will benefit greatly from the focus we’re going to bring to them at the APEC table.
APEC Bulletin: How will APEC’s policy work in 2018 benefit Papua New Guineans, including those who are in more remote or rural areas outside the capital Port Moresby?
Ambassador Pomaleu: Well, if you take digital, that’s an important connectivity metaphor as we are an economy that is challenged in terms of infrastructure. Port Moresby is a city that is not connected to many other areas of Papua New Guinea. We want to concentrate on digital issues in APEC to build the connections we need in education, in social media, in making financial services more inclusive and accessible in remote areas.
Another big challenge is to try and bring government services into the mix. When we began thinking about ideas for APEC in the digital economy, we did notice a large amount of work that was already taking place in e-government. Whether it’s creating new business, making social services more readily available, registering debts—those areas present opportunities for growth and to better reach our rural population.
APEC Bulletin: Can you give an illustration of what small businesses in Papua New Guinea and around the region could expect from APEC in the digital space?
Ambassador Pomaleu: One of the things we hope to take forward in the APEC work stream is to demonstrate and open up opportunities for micro enterprises, like those in the handicraft sector in Papua New Guinea. We are developing a project that could potentially deliver to handicraft producers and traders internet platforms that allow them to trade their handicrafts directly from the rural areas, to the different markets that could come onto a potential internet platform.
Once you show that it is possible to do that in one sector then the potential to explore others can become a reality for us. Certainly there are also real opportunities in tourism—that is, to connect our tourism services, our assets, our products that exist in Papua New Guinea to the outside world using digital channels.
APEC Bulletin: What do you think will be the most challenging aspects of this effort to open up digital channels and growth opportunities, and how will Papua New Guinea and APEC members tackle those?
Ambassador Pomaleu: One challenge will be to strike a balance so that the actions we take this year in APEC are also relevant to other member economies that are on the higher end of the development spectrum. In formulating our agenda, we’ve tried to achieve this balance. But we do have high expectations from our stakeholders to make things relevant to them.
There are certain compliance issues that we want to bring onboard and emphasize. There are important inclusion discussions we want to have that apply to fisheries, forestry and agriculture. We will bring a sizable focus on gender-smart work places and ways to involve more women in the different resources sectors. These are key areas that APEC is moving towards and we want to help carry that.
APEC Bulletin: How do you see changes in climate and the effects they have on people’s lives and livelihoods figuring into the APEC agenda?
Ambassador Pomaleu: When we think about sustainable development, inevitably we have to think about climate challenges within the region. Papua New Guinea intends to confront these challenges that are of great concern to us and to our smaller Pacific island neighbors. This includes food security and you might find conversations emerging there. It involves sustainable development and you might find conversations emerging there. We need strike a balance, making sure our work stays relevant to APEC but also takes into account the key issues that are part of our landscape at the moment.
APEC Bulletin: What particular lessons or experiences from Papua New Guinea could you share with APEC members as you work together on trade and growth issues in 2018?
Ambassador Pomaleu: What I’m really looking forward to is the opportunity to demonstrate that there are important trade and globalization issues, certainly some regional issues, that perhaps for the first time we could tackle by bringing APEC to Papua New Guinea: The challenges of being small; The challenges of being a small economy trying to be part of a global network of economies that are enjoying best practice policy configurations.
We bring our own unique challenges. This year, we have a chance to call attention them in ways that have not been possible before in APEC. Disconnection is an important one. Remote areas, poverty, climate change—they are important too. Again, we need to keep it balanced in terms of discussions. We get one opportunity to demonstrate how we could bring APEC-related discussions into our context and perhaps get other economies to appreciate us and what we can bring to the table.
APEC Bulletin: As the smallest member economy, Papua New Guinea has some unique challenges. What is the role for APEC and its agenda looking into the future?
Ambassador Pomaleu: There is a lot that APEC has already done for us but growth remains an important issue and we need to continue to push forward work on connectivity. Through these efforts, we want to advance policy that can enable us to harness inclusive opportunities and embrace the digital future.
Our discussions complement the work that our own government has been doing and bring a focus that allows us to capitalize on infrastructure development, to capitalize on an educated population, and to capitalize on a healthy population. This can give us enormous scope for more accelerated development in our economy. There is a real possibility that we could write our story further down the track and point to 2018 as an important turning point.