10th Asia Pacific Co-op Ministers’ Conference

By Balu Aiyer

The Asia-Pacific Cooperative Ministers’ Conference (APCMC) established in 1990 by the International Cooperative Alliance Asia Pacific (ICA-AP), is a quadrennial event organized to provide a platform for cooperatives and governments to discuss current and emerging issues and set a common agenda towards the establishment of new forms of co-operation between governments and co-operatives. The APCMC helps to create a sustained and enabling policy and regulatory environment that is conducive to co-operative development.

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development  sets a course to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Co-operatives have been recognized as important players to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), because they foster democracy, practice social inclusion and operate with concern for the environment. The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognizes co-operative enterprises as important players within the private sector to achieve the SDGs. Considering this, the 10th APCMC has set forth the theme: “Visioning Ahead to 2030: Promoting Stronger Partnerships between Government and Co-operative Stakeholders in realizing the SDGs.”

The 10th APCMC is being hosted by the ICA-AP, together with the Vietnam Cooperative Alliance (VCA), and the Government of Vietnam from April 18-21, 2017 in Melia Hotel, Hanoi.  “Visioning Ahead to 2030 is promoting stronger partnerships between Government and Co-operative Stakeholders in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says Regional Director of ICA A-P Balu Aiyer.

A member of ICA, the VCA is the apex organization of the Vietnam Cooperative Movement and promotes the development of co-operatives. The conference is supported by the Ministry of Planning and Investment of Vietnam

The 9th APCMC  was held in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012, hosted by the government of Thailand and attended by 14 Cooperative Ministers and 300 delegates including government representatives, international delegates and ICA members from 21 countries.

Developments since 2012:  The “International Year of Co-operatives” created an earnest reflection, on how co-operatives can contribute in reducing poverty, generating employment, and advancing social integration. The momentum in 2012 generated further in–depth thinking towards the creation of the “ICA Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade”, incorporating five distinct elements (participation, sustainability, identity, legal framework and capital), which need to be advanced in a coherent manner in order to foster growth and development of co-operatives.

Cooperatives need to usher into a new era where traditional approaches in co-operative development give way to fresh co-operative thinking and approaches. There is need to recognize and promote the new concept of food sovereignty, which has been gaining popularity, as a number of governments have officially adopted its framework and principles on a national level. The implications of rising urbanization, where a surge of unorganized labor in the informal economy has occurred needs to be addressed. There are opportunities provided in ILO Recommendation 193, including the presence of ILO Recommendation 204 concerning the transition from Informal to the Formal Economy, the conclusions concerning SMEs and decent and productive employment creation adopted at the 2015 session of the International Labor Conference.Since the APCMC held in 1997 in Chiangmai, the ICA AP has raised the issue of gender equality in earnest.  However, equality has yet to be attained, as there remains under-representation of qualified women in co-operative leadership positions. Questions still linger as to whether limited opportunities for women in leadership positions are due to systemic gender bias, organizational structures and practices, or cultural and socialization patterns that drive men and women into differential rewards and status. So also, youth have begun to espouse the values and principles of co-operatives as they become gradually engaged in co-operative activities.

The inadequacies of parochial approaches need to be corrected by engaging and integrating co-operatives more into the regional and global sphere of actions. In the end analysis, deeper comprehension of these critical issues will only create more space and capacity for governments and co-operative movements to frame more enabling and favorable co-operative legislation and policies.Co-operatives, once again, must be resilient and proactive in undertaking the needed  transformations to move forward and become sustainable.

ICA-AP conducted Regional Consultations in preparation for the agenda of the 10th Cooperative Ministers’ Conference and to collect information on issues, challenges and new trends confronting  cooperative in the region since the last Conference held in Bangkok, Thailand,  and to assess the need of the sectors across the region to feed on to  the discussions. Intensive Regional Consultations were held among co-operative leaders, high-ranking government officials, and organizations involved with co-operatives, namely in Jakarta for the ASEAN ++ Region (October, 2015), Kathmandu for the SAARC ++ Region (December, 2015) and in Kuwait (January 2016). The latter was held among the Council of Ministers of Labor and Council of Ministers of Social Affairs in GCC States.

The uniting voice from all Regional Consultations was that the success of co-operatives relies altogether on healthy member-based cooperatives, as well as good governance, but expansion and further advancement must be grounded in communities and further supported by strong and strategic partnerships with respective governments and international and national organizations in the Asia Pacific Region.

The Regional Consultations came up with 16 conclusions and 9 distinct recommendations, while discussing the five thematic issues that were proposed at the beginning of the consultations.  The issues were: (a) Food Sovereignty (and security), (b) New Co-operative Approaches (Innovation), (c) Co-operatives and the Transition from the Informal into the Formal economy, (d) Regional and Global engagement of Co-operatives, and (e) Enabling Environment (Legislative and Regulatory Frameworks).

Emerging from the discussions were the following priorities: (1) “Young Country” engagements; (2) Access to food and social/economic services; (3) Co-operative Rating Agency; (4) Green Economy (5) Public-Private Partnerships.

The priority areas area essentially an abstraction derived from conclusions and recommendations, to which cross-cutting issues such as education, training and empowerment, women and youth, digital technology, care for the socially marginalized people (incl. migrants), demographic trends, political capacity, and network engagements are to be taken into account.

At the 3rd edition of International Summit of Cooperatives held in Quebec, Canada from October 11 to 13, 2016, the focus was on cooperatives’ capacity to act on social, environmental and economic issues. In response to the UN’s SDGs, cooperatives and mutuals recognized that they are in a position of influence in terms of being able to introduce sustainable development strategies and help resolve major world issues. The Declaration from the Summit commits that by 2030, the cooperative movement hopes to include 2 billion members, and 4 million enterprises.

The Asia Pacific region has an important role to play in ensuring that the commitment of cooperatives at the Summit can be met. In order to best do this, co-operatives need to align their work with the SDGs, and the targets and indicators that will track achievement of the Goals leading up to 2030. Co-ops for 2030 (http://www.coopsfor2030.coop/en) is a campaign for cooperatives to learn more about the SDGs, commit to pledges to contribute to achieving the SDGs and report their progress. Members from Australia, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Japan, Palestine, Philippines, and Timor Leste have made their pledges.

At the 9th Asia Pacific Co-operative Forum held on 18th November 2016 in New Delhi, with the theme “Co-operatives: The Power to Act for a Sustainable Future”, members of the ICA Asia Pacific re-emphasized the importance of issues raised at the Regional Consultations as mentioned in item 13 above, and resolved to effect a paradigm shift that also includes ecological integrity, renewable energy, disaster management, demographic changes (such as “youth bulge” and the “aging population”) and entrepreneurship. The Forum also resolved to collaborate with policy makers and legislators in line with ILO Recommendation 193 and overall ICA Strategy to create and maintain an enabling climate for a sustainable co-operative movement. The Forum concluded with a firm determination that the DNA of Co-operatives has come of age, which are members-owned, value-based, and sustainable.

A detailed survey to capture succinctly the current conditions of co-operatives in the Asia Pacific region, with focus on countries involved in the Regional Consultations in ASEAN (++), SAARC (++) regions, and the Gulf, has been conducted by ICA-AP. The survey received good responses from member organizations, made in collaboration with their respective governments. The results of the Regional Consultations and a compilation of this comprehensive survey will form a solid portrayal of the situation in the Asia Pacific region, which is to be presented at the 10th Co-op Ministers’ Conference in Vietnam.

The objectives of the APCMC is to deliberate on the extent of collaboration between government and the co-operative movement in addressing current socio-economic issues and working toward attainment of SDGs based on the findings of the recent inclusive membership survey.

Another goal is to develop new co-operative thinking and innovative approaches to grow and sustain the cooperative movement based on recommendations from the Regional Consultations.

A third one is to devise a set of concrete action items to forge stronger partnership between the Government and Co-operative Stakeholders that are implementable within a mutually agreed time frame.

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