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GM2023 Technology to Broaden Workforce SpeakersThe 30th PECC General Meeting concluded on 15th August 2023. The event was hosted by the US PECC Committee during the APEC SOM 3 cluster of meetings held in Seattle. Over 100 delegates from 22 economies participated in person and virtually in the discussions. Participants came from different sectors of society; government; business; academia; civil society; and local governments. The conference featured in-depth discussions on: Digital Solutions to Environmental Challenges and Climate Change; Technology to Broaden Workforce Participation; Digital Tools to Enable SME Access to Global Markets.

The series of PECC meetings in Seattle also included an informal discussion on a project led by Australia PECC on “The Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific: Pathways to Prosperity”; a joint discussion with APEC Senior Officials on Generative Artificial Intelligence; and was rounded off with a joint initiative between the US PECC and China PECC committees on Local Leadership for Green Growth Cities. Experts discussed artificial intelligence, data and algorithms and the abundance of digital solutions and tools that enable greater experimentation for optimizing digitalization and climate change.

The meeting opened with a dialogue on the potential for digital technologies to reduce carbon emissions through improving energy efficiency as well as the use of electric vehicles and other innovations. However, they also underscored the importance of ensuring that an inclusive approach is taken in the transition, noting for example the relatively higher cost of electric vehicles. Furthermore, the current technologies require the use of scarce minerals whose extraction also impacts the environment as well as the need for very large-scale investments in infrastructure.

Another aspect to the rapid technological change that the world is facing is the impact this has on the workforce. Even among participants in the meeting, views were divided on whether these technologies would increase jobs or reduce opportunities for workers. Some of these technologies are key in resolving challenges in rapidly ageing societies where, in some cases, job openings go unfilled. Part of the problem is perceptions of whether workers are fit for the role – with job-seekers and recruiters limiting their search to similar titles in the same sector rather than the skills required to do the job. Using technological platforms to identify opportunities can help fill the role of more efficient labor market information systems for both job seekers and recruiters alike.

There was a widespread recognition of the need to enable people to take advantage of the new jobs being created – noting that technology is ever more pervasive – such as smart cars. That process needs to begin at the primary level. That process takes time and with the changes taking place at such a rapid pace continuous upskilling and reskilling is a necessity. There was a strong call for multisector cooperation among the business community, educators, government and professional associations to help in this process.

While the region has long recognized the critical role that MSMEs play in the region, from their share of the number of businesses through to the number of jobs they create, it has been challenging to find the right mix of policies to help them grow. New technologies now exist that help them overcome the policy burdens that they encounter with cross-border trade. Noting that about 40% of visitors to a commercial website are from overseas, the challenge is monetizing that interest. The benefits of international customers are clear with their average order sizes about 20% higher than domestic. But successful customer acquisition and retention is challenging with higher shipment costs and added at-the-border complexities such as customs codes. Using new digital tools can help to automatically identify appropriate codes which sometime differ from market to market for the same product.

Speakers underscored the importance of the Asia-Pacific to MSMEs with its large and growing customer base and the existence of a dynamic digital trade sector and multiple platforms across the region, as well as having a better feedback mechanism for policy. These can help businesses reach a much larger audience than they could through direct acquisition, lowering their own investment costs. But the considerable divergences in rules continue to be a problem for businesses – especially MSMEs that want to expand, underscoring the need for APEC to work through these problems to promote more inclusive growth.

In a joint session with APEC Senior Officials, participants took a deep dive on generative artificial intelligence. Noting that just a year ago, the term was barely known outside of specialized circles but was now becoming the subject of dinner table conversations, views remain on extremes, with some focused on the threats it poses and others on its opportunities. A clear understanding of what makes generative AI different from other forms of AI is necessary as well as what drives the outputs it generates is required. Concerns were expressed about how relying on AI for decision making can simply reaffirm existing biases and discrimination in society, there was a call for a clarity of objective in its policy-setting. While efforts are underway to begin thinking about how to regulate AI, it would be beneficial to engage in dialogue on this issue in APEC, taking advantage of its comparative advantage of open stakeholder engagement to ensure interoperable systems while respecting differences in culture and levels of development.

We heard examples from how cities are taking the lead on addressing climate change and its impacts. There is considerable room for cities to cooperate and share experiences as we move forward and try to achieve the targets the region has set at the international level. Examples were given of how cities in different economies are taking leadership to promote green growth. An initiative from the US and China PECC committees, they were joined by speakers from Colombia and Singapore who shared their policies.

Peru’s Senior Official for APEC gave a preview of its priorities for hosting in 2024 building on previous year’s achievements and moving forward towards achieving the Putrajaya Vision and the Aotearoa Plan of Action.