UNDP Administrator Helen Clark Ms Clark discussed her involvement with APEC

03 Jun 2014Singapore

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said that trade facilitation and capacity building are essential to enable developing economies to take part in the integrated global economy. 

In broadcast quality sound bites and on the occasion of APEC’s 25th anniversary, Ms Clark discussed her involvement with APEC and highlighted key issues to address moving forward.

 Language: English



For New Zealand, APEC has been a very important development because it has enabled our small country to be in very rigorous summits at Leader level, Ministerial level, working groups with officials with some of the biggest, most powerful countries on earth.




For me personally as a leader it was a very good annual opportunity to rub shoulders with a wide range of Leaders and I think it the whole experience has been extremely positive for New Zealand.



The strategic thinking behind the expansion of the agenda was that economics doesn’t operate in a vacuum that many different factors impact on the performance of an economy. For example, if you don’t have adequate disaster risk reduction measures in place, a major disaster will be a huge setback not only to people and human development but to economies functioning because infrastructure goes and livelihoods are lost. So I think that broader focus has been useful.


I remember being asked to lead a discussion at the Leaders’ Summit one year on HIV. Now again the thinking was if there are high rates of HIV infection, first this is very costly to economies let alone to human beings and their health. And costly in the sense of loss productivity as well as the cost of lifetime treatment. And lifetime treatment wasn’t as widespread then as it is now. This is a very considerable cost to countries where the infection rate have become quite high.




The bigger picture integration of the APEC economies has been on a rather slower track. Again, when I was Prime Minister, with Singapore, and with Chile, and with Brunei, we were fast movers on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But even expanding that has proven to be of course rather difficult as others come in wanting a lot more preconditions on open access to markets. But I’m sure APEC will keep working away on this.



Looking at it with a development focus as I do, I think it is very important that APEC does focus on the capacity building, that the less developed economies need to really foot it in a globalized world. Trade facilitation is easier said than done. There is a lot of things that need to be done to support developing countries to take their part in a meaningful way in an integrated economic space.




With free trade agreements, there will always be winners and losers in economic sectors. The key thing is for governments to have in place the measures which ensure that people are not short, medium or long term losers. In other words you need a) both comprehensive and social protection so that people don’t fall through a bottom floor of what’s required to live and participate meaningfully in society. And secondly you need measures which will support people to shift into other areas of activity, that maybe more education, maybe more training, more micro-credit, it may be the smart policies which look at the sectors of the future and how you shift investment and human capital into those sectors.




This has been a region which has been very successful at fighting extreme poverty. But while extreme poverty has been reduced, inequality has gone up. And that’s not a recipe for a balanced and harmonious society of course. Secondly, I think in this day and age, to think about growth and development without thinking about sustainability is just not sensible at all.





The traditional models of growth throughout human history have meant we’ve cleared our forests, we’ve poisoned our water, we’ve poisoned our air. Advanced countries have done a lot to clean up the air and water, but the forests are gone forever.  We’ve now got so many of the major emerging economies which have followed the same path of development with the same tragic consequences. This can’t continue with our forests because it’s so damaging to the overall ecosystem. But we also have to be mindful of the effects on human health and the environmental balance of other aspects of this unsustainable development. And the poor pay the heaviest price for that in terms of access to natural resources, health and so on. So I hope in the economic chat around the APEC table, people aren’t just talking about growth, growth, growth but the quality of growth. Is it environmentally sustainable? Is it lifting human beings?  Is it lifting human development?



I think there’s quite a lot of possibilities for collaboration between the APEC Secretariat and UNDP. UNDP is not a charity organization, it’s not a bank, it’s a capacity building organization. That means a lot of the areas that APEC is interested like trade facilitation, like integrity in government, like fighting corruption, like the advancement of women. We are all over these areas as a major development organization. I think we could be helpful. If we are clear about what the priorities for APEC are, where APEC is looking for capacity to be built, for assistance to be improved, where governments could go up several notches, for women to be included. I think we could do more together.





I think there is a good policy resource right here in the APEC Secretariat. UNDP has its own policy resource based on the knowledge acquired over decades working in developing countries. I’d like to see us as an organization which is as a knowledge leader on the basis of seeing what has worked and what hasn’t worked on every developing country on earth. And being able to share those experiences so that those who are looking for solutions to their problems can see actually out there somebody else tried something, at some point it may have worked, it may have not. But what can we learn from that, what can we share. APEC with the range of economies involved also has a lot of opportunity to share experience and knowledge. If we can be helpful in that equation, I think that would help us both.





I think women role models are critical. I come from a generation where there were very few women role models.  And often it was hard for people in my country to relate to those few women elsewhere who were in leadership positions. These days there are many other role models and that does inspire younger women. Yes that could be me. The glass ceiling has been shattered but we need more people to come on through then there is at the present time. And these battles are not won in a lot of societies yet, where the numbers of women in top positions are very small.

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