OPINION: Working with Papua New Guinea to support prosperity in our region

By Simon Newnham, DFAT

SOME of the most useful work we do as DFAT officers is not behind our desks – it’s when we’re face-to-face engaging with and learning from our global counterparts. I was reminded of this when I spent the day with a delegation of 55 Papua New Guinean officials who will lead and contribute to PNG’s hosting of APEC in 2018.

This is a big deal. Hosting a year of APEC meetings is a significant challenge for any economy, and all APEC economies work closely with the host to support productive engagement and strong outcomes from the meetings.

APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum – provides a platform to deliberate on collective responses to the core economic and trade challenges confronting our region. The 21 member economies represent communities around the Pacific Rim, from Russia and Canada in the north to the southern reaches of the Pacific Ocean in New Zealand and Chile. We discuss and explore challenges, share best practice, trial innovative approaches and agree to frameworks to support more effective cooperation and prosperity in the region.

APEC is a quiet achiever. It nurtures productive networks of collaboration – an APEC ‘family’ – across government, as well as academia and the business community throughout the region. It promotes reform and delivers practical outcomes that improve the way we manage our respective economies to facilitate trade and investment. These initiatives can take time to deliver results, but it is worth the effort.

So when the opportunity arose to spend a day with PNG officials working on hosting APEC 2018, I leapt at the chance. And so did more than 50 colleagues from across the Australian Government.

PNG has been an active participant in APEC since joining in 1993. It is an emerging bridge between Asia and the Pacific and brings a unique policy perspective to deliberations. We share common global economic interests with PNG and we also have a robust trade and investment relationship. For example, nearly 5,000 Australian companies do business with PNG, there is around A$18 billion Australian investment in PNG, and in 2016 we saw two-way trade in goods and services of A$6.1 billion. So I welcomed the opportunity to talk about APEC with PNG counterparts.

I was most impressed by the personal commitment these officers had to their work on APEC. Most of them were in Australia in July to continue studies on international trade and international relations at the University of Adelaide and University of Queensland, under an Australia Awards PNG program designed specifically to support their APEC preparations. I heard about some long days and nights of study, but also some jokes about rugby league and the best wine coming from South Australia.

I also heard about their preparations on APEC discussion topics for 2018. We shared Australian experiences from hosting similar meetings in the past and our PNG visitors, from 24 different government agencies in Port Moresby, also spent time with their Australian counterparts in Canberra to discuss shared interests. Our time together was capped by a networking reception with APEC region diplomats and, among others, academics who share our passion for APEC.

Our colleagues from across the Torres Strait finished their visit to Canberra with a one-day simulation of an APEC senior officials meeting, to hone their skills in managing complex agendas.

I look forward to working with them closely in 2018 as PNG showcases its potential and we take forward APEC work that will support prosperity across the region.

Simon Newnham is currently First Assistant Secretary, Investment and Economic Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Australia’s Ambassador for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). As APEC Ambassador, Newnham progresses Australia’s APEC agenda, including deepening services trade liberalisation and advancing structural reform. Prior to his recent appointment, Newnham worked as Minister-Counsellor (Trade) at Australia’s Embassy to the United States in Washington DC, and in various roles in the Office of the Minister for Trade, including as Chief of Staff.