Enhancing the Contribution of Business to Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific

Opening Statement as Delivered by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer
United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Adviser of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Asia-Pacific Business Forum 2013
Bangkok, Thailand, 25 November 2013

Your Excellency, Mr. Robert Aisi,
Chair of the Pacific Small Islands Developing States to the UN &
Permanent Representative of Papua New Guinea to the United Nations

Datuk Seri Mohamed Iqbal Rawther,
Chair of the ESCAP Business Advisory Council (EBAC) &
Group Executive Director, Farlim Group

Mr. Thapana Sirivadhanabhakdi,
President and CEO, Thai Beverage Public Company Limited

Mr. Chartsiri Sophonpanich,
Chairman of the Thai Bankers’ Association &
President Bangkok Bank Public Company Limited

Excellencies, Distinguished participants, Ladies and gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 10th Asia-Pacific Business Forum, organized by ESCAP, with the partnership and inputs from the ESCAP Business Advisory Council (EBAC).

I also wish to recognize and thank the Joint Standing Committee of Commerce, Industry and Banking of Thailand, for their support, as well as a number of cooperating agencies, for the organization of the Forum this year.

It is especially encouraging to also recognize the participation today of a significant number of representatives from our Pacific Island states.

Business has a profound impact on the development of Asia and the Pacific. It is the main source of jobs, tax revenue, and therefore, finance for development. It can promote cultural exchange and technological innovation, as well as generate products and services which transform the way we live.

But we know that the benefits of business still do not reach widely enough. Our shared responsibility, as leaders of government and captains of commerce and industry, is to face these challenges, and to seize these opportunities, by enhancing the contributions of business to inclusive and sustainable development, and to the greater wellbeing of the people of our region.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

10 Years of APBF: Achievements & Challenges

It was with the aim of discussing some of the most pressing business issues affecting Asia and the Pacific, that ESCAP first organized the Asia-Pacific Business Forum in Shanghai, China, in 2004. Today we mark the 10th anniversary of the APBF – a valuable opportunity for us to jointly take stock of what has been achieved, and the challenges which still remain.

The APBF has been a successful forum for discussion and engagement, especially given its focus on developing country issues and concerns. Since 2004, the range of topics and themes addressed each year has reflected many of the most pressing developmental issues. Regular dialogue has focused the attention of Asia-Pacific business leaders on key priorities for private sector partnership, from regional cooperation and investment in energy infrastructure, to climate change adaptation, low-carbon economic growth, and closer regional economic integration.

The APBF has also contributed to changing business mindsets in Asia and the Pacific. As a region, we have seen growing consensus on the need to shift to a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient growth path, to ensure the future prosperity of rising Asia. Similarly, we have seen the evolution of corporate social responsibility into more nuanced approaches to responsible and sustainable business commitments.

We have had ten years of talking, albeit on issues of great importance. This should now be matched by ten years of action. It is important to change mindsets, but this must also be accompanied by significant changes in behavior, and concrete actions which transform commitments into real and impactful outcomes on people lives.

Let us take the example of Rio+20 – the landmark 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which I had the privilege of attending. In advance of the meeting, the countries of Asia-Pacific, strongly supported by our private sector, forged a powerful and coherent regional perspective on priorities for development after 2015. At Rio+20 there was firm recognition by governments, businesses, civil society and other stakeholders on the key role for business in shaping the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the sustainable future we want – well beyond the limited programmes which have been the focus of traditional corporate social responsibility.

Over 700 voluntary commitments were made at Rio+20, of which 181 were commitments by business. Yet only twenty companies from Asia and the Pacific were amongst those who made these commitments, accounting for less than 13 per cent of business commitments world-wide.

Asia-Pacific business is the new growth pole and anchor of the world economy, and if we stand by our conviction that business must take a greater leadership role in sustainable development, then we must find ways to close the gap between dialogue and action in bringing about sustainable development. This then is the real challenge for the APBF in its second decade, and ‘walking the talk’ should be amongst the most important issues for discussion at this meeting of the Forum.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

4 Point Action Agenda for Greater APBF Impact

I would like to suggest, for your consideration, four priority areas in which coordinated action by the APBF and its members could make the greatest additional impact – boosting both development and the business environment across Asia and the Pacific.

First - direct business mentoring: We know that the size and health of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) sector plays a key role in job creation, innovation, and economic growth. This is as true in less developed countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Nepal, where SMEs represent the vast bulk of the corporate sector, as it is in developed countries such as Japan where, SMEs account for about 99 per cent of all firms, 70 per cent of total employment and 50 per cent of GDP output . But it is the links and relationships between SMEs and other elements of the corporate community - including foreign-invested enterprises and larger domestic corporations - which often determine their long-term success, and the extent to which they in turn boost the whole economy. We need more APBF leadership in mentoring these entrepreneurs – especially women and youth, many of whom are working in the informal sector. Imagine the impact that will have been made if, in 2023 the APBF could reflect on its second decade having mentored 10 000 businesses in ten years. That would be the kind of exceptional progress which we should aim to achieve together.

Second – acting on ESCAP’s resolutions: APBF members will know that resolutions are one of the most important outcomes of the annual ESCAP Commission sessions. These resolutions are the commitments to action of our member States on development issues of the highest priority, and the private sector is a critical partner in implementing almost all of these commitments. There would, therefore, be great value in the APBF including discussions of key resolutions in the annual meetings, and working to catalyze support for implementation. A good example from the 2013 Commission session is the resolution on enabling paperless trade and cross-border recognition of electronic data and documents for intraregional trade facilitation.

Third – leading on sustainable development: The APBF needs to lead from the front in the wise stewardship of resources and concern for the common good. This entails, amongst others, staying cost-competitive by conserving land, water, energy, and minerals, as well as by reducing waste and encouraging reuse and recycling. It also means ensuring the highest labour standards, industrial safety; and environmental protection. We cannot allow a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ on labour standards and the resulting loss of lives, or for toxic pollution to simply be shifted from developed to developing countries. We look to you – in your own corporations and especially in your trade associations and industry bodies – to drive real and lasting behavioural change.

Fourth – fair pricing & human rights: It is an unfortunate reality that in Asia and the Pacific there are still too many instances of economic and social exploitation of natural resources and human resources as well. Much of this centres on unfair pricing and unsustainable extraction. Given our APBF focus this year on better Connecting the Pacific with Asia, we would do well to recall that countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands continue to see their natural resource base, forests, and rivers destroyed for quick profits by businesses from other Asia-Pacific countries, and many of our Pacific island nations remain unable to meet their development goals whilst the prices for their valuable fishery resources remain unfairly low. The APBF could make a significant impact by leading from the side of business in setting core standards on these issues, guided by the ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact, and the new UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Connecting the A with the P in Asia-Pacific

I was especially pleased that the theme of this year’s Forum is about creating stronger business relations with the Pacific. One of my most important goals since I was appointed as the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, has been to better connect ‘the A with the P’ in Asia-Pacific. This was also why we created the Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries, after my consultation with Pacific leaders in which Ambassador Aisi also participated.

At our 2008 Commission session, we brought Pacific leaders to Thailand and facilitated key meetings with the Thai fishing and food industries. In 2010, during the Commission session in the Republic of Korea, we linked Pacific leaders, including the President of Kiribati and the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, with the Korean maritime, shipping, and ICT industries. Last year, in Dili, Timor-Leste, we facilitated a Pacific Leaders Roundtable Consultation, as part of the Dili Consensus, giving the Pacific a strong voice in the global negotiations about shaping the priorities for post-2015 development.

This year, at our 2013 Commission session, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands presented many of the key recommendations from that consultation – on sustainable development, greener growth, effective governance, peace and development, and a service delivery model for development goals beyond 2015. He also highlighted the critical importance to the Pacific of a more equitable and fairer approach to the pricing of marine resources on which the Pacific depends for sustainable growth.

APBF members may also have noted that at the United Nations General Assembly this year, eleven Pacific heads of state signed a pivotal agreement on participation in the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative – the Pacific culmination of nearly a year of consensus-building, by ESCAP headquarters and our Pacific subregional office, to enhance energy security in the Asia-Pacific region in the context of sustainable development.

Perhaps most important of all for effective Pacific development, is the need for better connectivity between Asia and the Pacific. Air and ocean transportation networks need to be expanded to reduce costs and boost both trade and tourism. Similarly, improvements in ICT connectivity can help to better integrate the Pacific industries into the regional and global economies.

I am confident that though enhanced cooperation between governments and businesses we can unlock the economic and development potential of all parts of Asia-Pacific – forging greater connectivity and integration. Your deliberations today will be an important part of this effort.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In conclusion, the American industrialist, Henry Ford, once observed that: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. And working together is success.”

The APBF had its beginning ten years ago – and it has kept together. The success of the next ten years will be determined by the extent to which we can work together to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Let us together build on a decade of dialogue and engagement, and prepare for a decade of action and achievement in building a more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable region for all the people of Asia and the Pacific.

I thank you.