'We must not repeat the mistakes of history,' Ardern says in APEC opening remarks

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today that mistakes of the past must not be repeated and that it is essential Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders "commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing".

Ardern made her opening remarks during the APEC CEO Dialogue in a session moderated by Microsoft president Brad Smith.

The meeting of world leaders, business leaders and international media is being held online this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

APEC comprises of multiple meetings of top level officials over the year, with the most important being the Leaders' Week.

Ardern said all APEC leaders will be focused on having a plan for two things when they meet later tonight – the health response to the pandemic and driving the economic recovery. 

"Choices made now about how to recover from the crisis will be critical to our wellbeing in the decades to come. 

"In the first time in decades, we are seeing major setbacks in the fight against poverty — 90 million people worldwide projected to fall beyond the poverty line," she said. 

For all nations, the fight against Covid-19 is "unquestionably tough, as we see infection raging in different parts of the world, including in the APEC region", Ardern said.

She said she hoped leaders would agree to a new vision to guide work for the next 20 years for the Asia-Pacific region, "focusing on three engines of economic growth, trade, digital, innovation, sustainability and inclusion". 

"We must not repeat the mistakes of history, by repeating inter-protectionism. APEC must commit to keeping markets open and trade flowing."

Ardern said New Zealand plans to ask APEC economies to work together to plan for long-lasting economic recovery, to work for the collective growth and to "grow together, to foster prosperity and well-being that is sustainable, inclusive and digitally enabled".

She acknowledged Covid-19 has had a disproportional impact on women, indigenous people and ethnic minorities and said New Zealand is focussing on getting those people back to decent work quickly. 

"These are challenging times, but these times offer a significant opportunity to do things differently."

Smith, the Microsoft executive, asked Ardern about a range of topics including upskilling workers, the digital divide, climate change and what lessons she learned from the March 15 terrorist attack and the Christchurch Call. 

"When I reflect on that time it was within the tragedy itself and within the tool used by the terrorist… the ability to disseminate so widely an absolutely atrocious, appalling de-humanising video.

"It was the ability to do that, within also lied the solution.

"Our social media platforms enable us to be so interconnected and yet our idea of dealing with issues when that went horribly wrong was very siloed."

On climate change, Ardern said collective responsibility was needed - with the Pacific region especially seeing the "immeasurable consequences in terms of sea level rises".

New Zealand's APEC hosting had already faced issues after a fire ripped through the the still under construction Sky City convention centre, where the event was supposed to be held. 

APEC was cancelled last year in Chile due to unrest. In 2018, it was held in Papua New Guinea, marred by sparring between the US and China that were locked in a trade dispute.

It was last held in New Zealand in 1999 under then-Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.