Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2012 – Need for a new business paradigm for inclusive and sustainable development

As the world continues to face economic turmoil, especially in the developed countries, regional economic integration, supported by robust South-South cooperation, has become even more important to reduce dependencies and diversify economies, according to Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP in her opening address to the Asia-Pacific Business Forum (APBF) 2012, which opened in Kuala Lumpur today.

However, she also noted that whilst the turbulence and uncertainty of the current global economic environment poses serious challenges, it also offers great opportunities for the companies of our region to move beyond traditional business models, to develop new markets, and to strengthen their value propositions. She called on business to pay more attention to economic fairness and adopt a new business paradigm: “This new business paradigm is one of corporate governance, based on the concepts of responsibility, inclusivity and sustainability. It hardwires into management an understanding that the relationship between business, society and the environment must be one of respect and mutual benefit. Unless we act collectively and responsibly, the future we get may be one that nobody will want”.

Over 150 participants attended the opening of the two-day forum which is co-organized by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (ASLI), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It follows a session of ESCAP’s Business Advisory Council which agreed to set up task forces to advocate the issues of green business, social enterprises and SMEs and inclusive trade, investment and finance.

Addressing the Forum, Datuk Dr. Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Secretary-General of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, attributed the success of Malaysia’s economic growth to a carefully managed transformation process but warned that bold and fast actions were required to lift the country out of the middle-income trap: “Sustained investment in human capital, trade and investment liberalization, and infrastructure and technology development while ensuring inclusive growth remain central to achieving Vision 2020 for Malaysia. In this process, it is important to maintain a proper balance between the roles of public and private sector and civil society.”

This year’s Forum also witnessed the second OECD/ESCAP regional conference on Corporate Responsibility (CR). “Open markets, friendly business environment, and sound regulation remain the solid foundation of economic success. However, the global crisis has shown that market integrity is also important. Governments have to improve market conditions and businesses have to embrace responsible business practices. Over the past two years, governments have delivered a clear and coherent message on what constitutes responsible business conduct, as embodied in leading international instruments such as those of the OECD. The challenge now is to turn ideas into action – the opportunity should not be missed,” stated Ambassador Richard Boucher, Deputy-Secretary-General of the OECD.

The Forum also saw the launch of policy guidelines for promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which have emerged as an engine of growth for most Asia-Pacific countries by boosting production, exports, employment and income generation.