Foreign Affairs

NZ’s APEC hosting rights face potential delay

The APEC summit set to take place in New Zealand next year offers a chance to shape the path to global recovery - but our time in the limelight may be delayed if this year’s hosts have their way

New Zealand’s plans to hold a major international summit in 2021 may be delayed by at least a year, with Malaysia pushing to have this year’s hosting rights carried over due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum is scheduled to take place next year, with the centrepiece APEC Leaders’ Week expected to attract around 13,000 delegates and media to Auckland.

But on Monday, Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker suggested the location of next year’s APEC forum was up in the air due to Covid-19 - not because of difficulties on the New Zealand side but a request from 2020 host Malaysia to hold the event in a more normal environment.

“Because of the disruption to this year’s event, it will have knock-on effects to subsequent years and we’re really not sure how that falls as yet,” Parker said in a question and answer session following the launch of a post-Covid trade recovery strategy.

“I think Malaysia has been quite clear that they want to delay their year until next year, but what the knock-on effects of that are in subsequent periods is not yet clear.”

New Zealand would have to agree to the proposal, with Cabinet ministers set to discuss the issue in the coming weeks.

Such a deferral would also have flow-on effects for the countries set to host APEC after New Zealand, with Thailand and South Korea scheduled to hold the event in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

'Unprecedented times'

NZ International Business Forum executive director Stephen Jacobi (also a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council) said New Zealand and APEC would have to work through the benefits and drawbacks of such a change in plans.

“It's unprecedented, isn't it, but we're living in unprecedented times, so I don't know exactly how that's going to work out and I suppose there are arguments for and against.”

Moving New Zealand’s turn to 2022 could allow it to hold events in less constrained circumstances while allowing Malaysia to host a full suite of engagements, but that had to be weighed against a departure from established principles.

With last year’s forum in Chile disrupted by domestic unrest and this year’s summit hit by Covid-19, Jacobi said APEC needed to meet in some capacity both this year and next to deal with the big questions about the path out of the pandemic.

“I think whatever happens, it's very important that APEC continues to have its voice heard about important things in the region and plays a role in the recovery.”

National Party foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said any changes to hosting rights was a matter for APEC members to decide, but New Zealand should maintain its willingness to hold the event in 2021.

National's foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee says New Zealand should not be forced to the back of the queue for APEC hosting rights. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The fairest approach, in the event Malaysia’s proposal was accepted, would be for all future host countries to have their turn delayed a year rather than New Zealand falling to the back of the line, Brownlee said.

“I would think that if a decision is made to allow Malaysia to take it next year, in light of their commitments this year, and if we go back in the queue, that would just indicate exactly what sort of standing New Zealand has within the APEC community.”

It was anyone’s guess whether the international travel situation would have improved by the time the Leader’s Week and other APEC events came around next year, he said.

The Covid-19 crisis is not the first problem to complicate New Zealand’s plans.

The Government reviewed its security arrangements for the event following the March 15 terror attack, while an October 2019 fire at the SkyCity Convention Centre meant its construction would not be finished in time to host APEC.

Last year, Newsroom also revealed that millions of dollars in contracts for the event signed for the event did not meet the Government’s own procurement guidelines.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said a decision on whether or not the forum went ahead next year needed to be made by central government and agreed by all APEC economies.

“Auckland stands ready to host a successful APEC whether it occurs in 2021 or 2022,” Goff said.

An MFAT spokeswoman confirmed Malaysia's request to continue hosting the event in 2021, but said any decision would require the agreement of all members as part of a "multi-layered and consensus-based" process.

APEC 2021 organisers were constantly working on contingency planning, including the possibility of virtual events if needed.

APEC Secretariat director-general Rebecca Sta Maria said the organisation would support whatever decision was made by its members, and would announce any changes once a consensus was reached.

A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said he could not discuss New Zealand’s hosting rights before Cabinet dealt with the matter.

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