Asia-Pacific policymakers outline priorities to make region’s path to prosperity more equitable and sustainable

Top Asia-Pacific economic policymakers speaking at United Nations panel here outlined an agenda to make the region’s dynamic prosperity more inclusive and sustainable amidst deepening global economic uncertainty and environmental pressures.

Ministers of finance and national economic policy advisors from Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific took part in the discussion on Steering Inclusive Development Amidst Global Turbulence & Volatility organized during the 17-23 May annual session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

The Asia-Pacific region has become the driver of the global economy as advanced economies slow down, but its dynamic growth has not been inclusive, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Dr. Noeleen Heyzer told the panel. “Asia and the Pacific has grown, but it has also created inequalities.”

There has been a “worrying rise in socio-economic inequalities in recent years, in tandem with robust growth in many countries,” Dr. Heyzer said yesterday. These include jobless growth, a disproportionately large informal sector workforce and insufficient social protection, leaving large sections of the population vulnerable, in particular women, migrant workers, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Addressing the panel, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, H.E. Mr. Kittiratt Na-Ranong said making growth inclusive was the key challenge for policymakers. “The job is not just to create growth, but to deliver well-being to all members of the economy.”

He added that it was equally important to ensure that growth should be inclusive across the region and not limited to some countries as underperforming economies can “drag down the growth of others.”

The Thai minister cited his government’s recently implemented minimum wage policy as an attempt to make growth inclusive and said private sector employers implementing it had reported improvements in worker productivity. The minimum wage had also increased purchasing power of the lower income groups and helped reduce inequalities.

H.E. Mr. Lotoala Metia, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Tuvalu pointed out that strong growth in the Pacific island countries in 2011 mainly came from the subregion’s largest economy, Papua New Guinea which benefited from higher commodity export prices.

“For many of the smaller Pacific island countries, such as my country Tuvalu, economic growth remains elusive.” Remote Pacific small island countries like Tuvalu are also highly vulnerable to natural disasters, volatile food and fuel prices as well as the impact of climate change which threatens their very survival, he pointed out.

Geographical location is also a challenge to inclusive and sustainable growth for the landlocked developing countries of the region like Uzbekistan which is trying to modernize its transport and communications links to increase its share in international trade and commerce, H.E. Mr. Bakhtiyer Abdusamatov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment and Trade of the Republic of Uzbekistan told the forum.

Dr. Hafiz Pasha, Convener of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Economic Advisory Council said while rising commodity prices had benefited sections of the rural population in the region, high food prices had pushed up the incidence of urban poverty. A lack of focus on the agriculture sector and rural development had made the region a net food importer as the average growth rate of food production over the past decade did not keep pace with population growth.

Outlining his country’s response to the global financial and economic crisis, Dr. Oh-Seok Hyun, President of the Korea Development Institute said the Republic of Korea, learning from the 1997 financial crisis was readjusting its traditional export-driven growth model. Exports accounted for nearly half of national growth in 2011 but were projected to contribute only one-tenth of growth this year.

Discussions at the panel set out the contours of a regional development agenda. These include priority for a second Green Revolution that is less natural resource and energy intensive to ensure food and livelihood security to the majority rural Asia-Pacific population, greater South-South development and technical cooperation as well as a regional financial and energy infrastructure to tap existing complementarities.