The services sector can be a game changer, not only in domestic and regional development but also in member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), business groups from the public and private sector across the Asia Pacific said at the culminating event of an APEC dialogue here Tuesday.

Delegates to the Regional Conference of Services Coalition thus urged the APEC to take action to realize the transformative benefits” of this sector, which provides services ranging from restaurants, shipping, accounting, information technology, and entertainment, among other services-centered enterprises.

According to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), these benefits can only be enjoyed by making the services sector more competitive, and competitiveness can be achieved with structural reform in APEC economies.

Competitive services help to create jobs, produce quality goods, widen choices for consumers, harness opportunities for businesses, improve living standards, and spur economic growth, the ABAC said in a statement.

Reforms should include addressing behind-the-border barriers, such as business registration procedures, the council said, adding that international trade negotiations alone will not be able to fix them.

Governments need to take unilateral action to encourage competitive services industries, the ABAC said.

Opening and facilitating trade and investments in the services sector have significantly benefited micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) seeking to enter global markets, it noted.

Member of ABAC Hong Kong Anthony Nightingale also pointed out that an uncompetitive services sector means an uncompetitive manufacturing sector.

This has led to lower exports and higher prices for consumers, he said.

Representatives of both the private and public sectors meanwhile welcomed the development of an APEC Services Cooperation Framework, which APEC Leaders will consider at their annual summit scheduled in Manila on November 18 to 19.

The framework would signal the importance of services to APEC member-economies and introduce an action plan for the next 10 years on improving services competitiveness.

The ABAC and other businessmen also said engaging the business community is important in formulating meaningful domestic reforms.

Government policies need to embrace the new global worker, said Guillermo Luz, lead coordinator for the private sector in the APEC National Organizing Council.

The Regional Conferences of Services Coalition was held on the margins of the APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting and the APEC Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting here in Cebu City.

While a non-binding formation, the APEC meetings are able to set domestic, regional, and industrial policies to achieve free and open trade and investment in the Asia Pacific.

The APEC’s 21 member economies are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

The APEC Leaders established the ABAC in 1995.

This private sector body presents recommendations to APEC Leaders in an annual dialogue and advises APEC officials on business sector priorities and concerns.

The ABAC meets four times per year, and ABAC representatives also attend Senior Officials’ Meetings, the Annual Ministerial Meeting, and the sectoral Ministerial Meetings.

The ABAC comprises up to three senior business people from each APEC economy and the appointments are made by the Leader of the member economy concerned.

The Chair of the ABAC comes from the economy that is hosting the APEC and therefore changes annually. The ABAC represents a diverse range of sectors and includes small and large enterprises.