Jacinda Arderns uses APEC to champion a global economy where no one is left behind


This story was originally published on Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.

Jacinda Ardern uses her time at APEC to champion inclusive trade on the world stage, which means lifting those at the bottom. Laura Walters reports. 

The women sit in clear rows behind the newly-built benches, dotted with neat piles of garlic, onions, potato leaves and bananas. They wear brightly-coloured shirts and broad smiles.

Almost all of the 1500 to 2000 vendors, and their clients, who work at Port Moresby’s Gordons Market are women. And about 80 per cent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people earn their living at markets across the country.

US Vice President Mike Pence looks on as Jacinda Ardern answers questions during the Leaders Electrification Project meeting at APEC 2018

AARON FAVILA/AP

US Vice President Mike Pence looks on as Jacinda Ardern answers questions during the Leaders Electrification Project meeting at APEC 2018

For three generations, Papua New Guinean women have been selling and buying their wares at the Pacific’s biggest fresh produce market, contending with unsanitary conditions for them and their children, and selling from mud puddles next to piles of rubbish. The market was also notorious for theft.

While the skyline continues to climb in the nation’s capital, with new infrastructure projects and the growing wealth of a few, the majority of people struggle daily. A third of the country live in poverty.

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Papua New Guinea is the smallest developing economy in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group of 21 countries.

But its situation is not unlike those of other Pacific countries, and across the world there is a growing divide between those who have and those who do not.

GLOBALISATION HAS FAILED MANY

This year, Jacinda Ardern’s message to the world has been consistent: globalisation hasn’t worked for everyone, but it can.

In her speech to the UN General Assembly in September, Ardern said every country and its citizens had been impacted by globalisation.

“While that impact has been positive for many, for others it has not. The transitions our economies have made have often been jarring, and the consequences harsh.

“And so amongst unprecedented global economic growth, we have still seen a growing sense of isolation, dislocation, and a sense of insecurity and the erosion of hope,” she said.

Ardern repeated this during her time in Singapore and then Papua New Guinea, last week, where she tried to shine a light on those who had not benefited from globalisation.

The theme for this year’s APEC, held in Port Moresby, was “Harnessing Inclusive Opportunities, Embracing the Digital Future”.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks with members during Pacific Islands Countries informal Dialogue with APEC Leaders at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

AARON FAVILA/AP

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks with members during Pacific Islands Countries informal Dialogue with APEC Leaders at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

During an interview with the BBC, while in Singapore, Ardern spoke about the fallout from globalisation, along with the risks of protectionism.

“Now it’s a global market and with that comes a little bit of fear – fear around job security, fear about whether your children will have the same opportunities that you had,” she said.

“Our response as political leaders can be twofold: we can either capitalise on that fear by blaming others and saying that the answer is to become more and more insular; to become protectionist; to build up those walls around us so that we can retreat back to yesteryear.

“The alternative is to give a message of hope.”

Ardern said New Zealand did not have the option of retreating, due to its geography and size. Instead, it would work with other countries, using regional groups like East Asia Summit (EAS) and APEC, to find solutions to current issues, so nobody was left behind.

WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT

In the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit family photo, Ardern stands out. She’s one of only two female leaders, along with Aung San Suu Kyi.

This was a similar theme throughout the week. At APEC, she was one of three female leaders, along with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. She was the only popularly-elected leader present.

Ardern used the trip to raise the issue of women’s representation, as well as issues that plagued women and children across the Asia-Pacific region.

Papua New Guinea has no female MPs, and since gaining independence in 1975, the country has had seven female MPs. Globally, about 5 per cent of leaders are female.

At the market, the vendors burst into applause when Ardern brought up the issue of women in politics, saying she hoped the redeveloped market would lead to more successful businesses for women and their families, who would then consider a career in politics.

“If you want a community or a country to thrive, then you look after the women, because the women look after the children…

Ardern said the market redevelopment, which New Zealand half-funded to the tune of $7 million, was a very deliberate project.

The partnership with Papua New Guinea’s National Capital District Commission, which also put in $7m, and UN Women, meant about 2000 vendors had a covered, two-storey building, with rubbish disposal, toilets, and running water.

Women in the Asia-Pacific don’t have the same level of economic empowerment or independence as men, but still make up half the population. Meanwhile, many Pacific countries like Papua New Guinea struggle with high rates of domestic violence.

It was important to focus on vulnerable communities, in order to lift outcomes for the whole country, Ardern said.

THE REAL PORT MORESBY

Later that day, Foreign Minister Winston Peters made his own announcement of up to $10m to help with the country’s general vaccination drive. As much as $3m of that money could be used to help boost polio vaccinations in the wake of an outbreak which has killed at least one person.

Health Secretary Pascoe Kase said exact vaccination rates were not known but in some provinces only about half of people would be covered by general vaccinations.

During the announcement at St John ambulance centre, which New Zealand put $1.3m into helping build and kit out, St John Council chair Jean Kekedo was not afraid to speak her mind.

The former senior diplomat and civil servant told Peters he had not seen the real Port Moresby during his APEC visit.

The skyscrapers and empty streets did not truly represent the country where most people struggle every day, she said.

DIGITAL DIVIDE

An increasing theme of globalisation is the digital divide.

As the world moves online, with digital connectivity driving social and economic growth, those who do not have access to electricity, internet, and technology are being left behind.

In keeping with the theme of lifting those at the bottom, New Zealand has joined the United States, Japan, Australia and Papua New Guinea, to invest in a major electrification project in Papua New Guinea.

The US$1.7b ($2.5b) project was aimed at helping the country reach its goal of 70 per cent electrification by 2030. Currently about 13 per cent of the country has access to power.

New Zealand was chipping in about $20m of new money – mostly in the form of expertise – in addition to $35m worth of existing power projects in Papua New Guinea.

Again, Ardern raised the importance of electricity for women, during the announcement made alongside US Vice President Mike Pence, Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and Australia’s Scott Morrison.

Electricity meant less time spent on menial jobs, and more time for women to focus on education and business. Simple things like having a light at night to enable families to read, or students to study will make a marked difference.

Trade Minister David Parker said in the age of the internet it was important that economies had a strategy to harness digital potential without leaving some behind.

New Zealand, along with Chile an Canada, had specific policies focusing on inclusivity.

“For some countries, despite the rules around trading, there is a degradation because some don’t believe trade is working for them. There’s a real need to keep up to date the global rules around e-commerce and the like, and build support for trade by making sure everyone benefits from it, and not just a few,” Parker said.

BEYOND TRADE

New Zealand International Business Forum boss Stephen Jacobi said APEC’s voluntary and non-binding nature was its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Countries could use APEC as a place to try new things, develop new concepts, and exchange ideas.

While it took a while for APEC to deliver tangible results, it was a good way to focus on bigger picture issues – like inclusive trade and globalisation – at a high level.

“APEC sometimes gets a bad press for never delivering but it’s an important forum to have.”

New Zealand punched above its weight when it came to regional summits, he said, adding that Ardern was well-placed to talk about women’s empowerment and inclusiveness.

The regional grouping wasn’t just about trade – that was a narrow way to look at it.

“The conversations are wider than trade and investment; it needs to look at things that impact on the lives of citizens.”

APEC was a regional incubator for figuring out how to address the big issues facing the global economy.

“Everybody realises it’s got to better than it is now,” he said.

This story was originally published on Newsroom.co.nz and is republished with permission.



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