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51st Workshop Meeting [19-21 October 2010, Bangkok, Thailand]

Statement by APO Secretary-General
by Ryuichiro Yamazaki
APO Secretary-General

Dr. Witoon Simachokedee, APO Director for Thailand; Dr. Phanit Laosirirat, APO Alternate Director and NPO Head of Thailand; Distinguished NPO and Agriculture Delegates; Advisers, Observers, and Guests:

It is a great honor for me to attend this distinguished gathering of Heads of National Productivity Organizations (NPOs) and Agriculture delegates which will, among other tasks, confirm the lineup of APO projects for 2011 and refine the Program Plan for 2012. I would first like to express my gratitude to all member countries for electing me as the ninth Secretary-General of the APO. I humbly accept the task of working to pursue our shared mission of improving the productivity of member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In this connection, I would like to request the continued support and cooperation of Heads of NPOs, Agriculture delegates, and other productivity partners and stakeholders so that we can work together to improve productivity both quantitatively and qualitatively.

I would also like to thank sincerely the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand for its generosity in hosting this year’s Workshop Meeting of Heads of NPOs (WSM) in this dynamic capital city of Bangkok. We are greatly honored that H.E. Chaiwut Bannawat, Minister of Industry, is gracing this occasion with his presence and giving the keynote address. I would like to express our deep appreciation to Dr. Witoon Simachokedee, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry, and to Dr. Phanit Laosirirat, Executive Director of the FTPI and NPO Head of Thailand, for all the arrangements and warm hospitality extended to the delegates.

I feel particularly privileged to join the APO at this auspicious moment as it prepares to celebrate its Golden Jubilee next year. Our founders bequeathed us a common aspiration and the guiding principles to improve productivity in the Asia-Pacific region through mutual cooperation. All the eight Secretaries-General before me made tremendous contributions to create tangible results befitting the aspiration of our founders. This was only possible with the close cooperation of member countries and their NPOs, which all of you represent. Our proud history and record of achievements make me resolved to carry out the mandate of leading the APO Secretariat to further the cause of productivity for the benefit of all member countries.

I do, however, recognize that our challenges are enormous. Financially, we are facing unprecedented difficulties. In mid-September, the US dollar was trading at ¥83. That marked a new, 15-year high of yen appreciation against the US dollar. At the beginning of this year, the dollar was widely anticipated to be around ¥90 to ¥95, and therefore the Secretariat adopted the exchange rate of ¥90 to the dollar for budgetary purposes. The steep decline of the dollar to ¥83 in September was unexpected, and the situation remains uncertain.  The 2011 and 2012 project lists presented to this WSM were prepared during such unpredictable exchange rate fluctuations.

The Secretariat also understands the tight budgetary constraints of member countries due to the global financial crisis, as reflected in the total membership contributions for 2011 and 2012, which remain the same as the amount for the 2009 and 2010 biennium. The main difference between the two bienniums is the unexpectedly weak dollar, translating in effect to about a 10% decrease in funds available for yen-denominated expenditures for 2011 and 2012.

The Secretariat thus modified the 2011 and 2012 Program Plans accordingly to devise the best lineup of projects within the budget available. The total membership contributions decided by the Directors at the Kuala Lumpur GBM would have otherwise covered only 44 multicountry projects for 2011. By modifying the project lineup, the Secretariat was able to increase that number. The modified lineup for 2011 now features 55 multicountry projects. As you all recall, however, we had 87 multicountry projects each in 2007 and 2008, 82 in 2009, and 65 in 2010. For 2012, 54 multicountry projects are planned at the moment, inclusive of GBM and WSM. These numbers clearly indicate that the multicountry projects that we can organize are becoming fewer. I would like to ask the understanding and continued support of member countries and NPOs in these extremely trying times.

The modifications in the 2011 and 2012 Program Plans included adjusting the type, category, title, or venue of projects. In addition, the Secretariat also had to resort to scaling down or even deferring some projects. For instance, two e-learning courses had to be cancelled from the six originally listed for 2011. Out of five observational study missions to nonmember countries, only two will be carried out. The Secretariat tried its best to ensure that the modifications would not compromise the quality and effectiveness of the original projects. The departmental directors of the Secretariat will explain the details during the subsequent agenda item.

The delegates are requested to review and confirm the revised program plans as presented by the Secretariat in Document No. 3. However, if the US dollar slips further, I am obliged to state that the number of projects to be implemented may have to be reviewed again.

I would now like to address the work program for the coming biennium. The APO, with the invaluable cooperation of all NPOs, has been fulfilling its mission through various programs. Looking into the future, and to ensure that our contributions will remain effective and relevant, I believe that it is timely for us to review our program direction.

The APO currently has five thrust areas, out of which four, namely: 1) strengthening of SMEs; 2) Green Productivity; 3) integrated community development; and 4) development of NPOs, were adopted in 1999. Knowledge management was added as the fifth thrust area in 2001. At the GBM in Kuala Lumpur last April, the Directors exchanged views concerning thrust and subject areas. The Secretariat compiled their suggestions and will present them at tomorrow afternoon’s strategic planning sessions so that we can receive further comments from you on how we may incorporate those ideas into our future program direction.

Despite my short time in office, I immediately became aware of the APO’s close cooperation with NPOs. Working in tandem with each NPO, we are together able to contribute to building up cadres of professionals inspired by a productivity improvement mindset. I am totally convinced that the continued close partnership with NPOs is the key factor in our productivity movement endeavors, as it has been up to the present.

My immediate predecessor, Secretary-General Shigeo Takenaka, introduced important initiatives to strengthen the institutional capacity of NPOs. This included the establishment of the APO’s Center of Excellence (COE), launched in 2009, with SPRING Singapore as the APO’s first COE for Business Excellence (BE). In collaboration with SPRING Singapore, the Secretariat conducted several activities to help member countries to develop national quality award models that are grounded on the universally accepted principles of BE. For example, the COE conducted workshops for BE assessors and consultants and deputed experts to Pakistan, the Philippines, and Bangladesh to help transfer knowledge and develop their BE roadmaps. In the future, more workshops will be conducted for senior consultants and senior assessors so that they can train even larger pools of consultants and assessors in their own countries, thereby increasing the multiplier effects of the COE. The efforts of the APO COE are beginning to bear fruit but more can be done to assist member countries in enhancing their national quality award models. Thus, the Secretariat is planning to extend the COE for BE through the 2011–2012 biennium, and I look forward to the support and cooperation of the member countries on this endeavor.

The Secretariat is also assisting NPOs to develop competence in promoting productivity in the public sector, which is a new area of engagement for several NPOs. At the beginning of the year, the Secretariat organized a meeting among a small group of experts to identify the scope and niche areas where APO work could be relevant within this vast sector. In August, we sent an observational study mission to Canada, a recognized world leader in public-sector productivity, to see actual applications of productivity improvement tools and techniques and gain insights on the policy framework and strategies that enable productivity improvement initiatives in this sector. Six NPO representatives including three heads of NPOs joined the mission, reflecting the interest of member countries, and I believe that mission has enriched our perspective on this topic.

We also examined the appropriateness of new topics such as the Information Security Management System based on the ISO27000 standard. This project provided member countries with the foundation for information security management systems and the appropriate risk management approach to maintain the confidentiality and integrity of an organization’s information. Another new topic is mental health and productivity, which provided member countries with information on the importance of mental health in the workplace not only for organizations but also for the socioeconomic development of a country since the negative effects of increasing mental health problems undermine productivity. These topics introduced in 2010 were well received, with many nominations of candidates for projects on each topic. For 2011 and 2012, the new topics we will examine include talent management for globalizing SMEs, material flow cost accounting, and an Asian SME benchmarking index.

In agriculture, new initiatives will include examining the implications of climate change on agricultural productivity, identification of appropriate adaptation measures for both the short and long terms, and the promotion of farm production practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We will also promote more cutting-edge technologies, such as nanotechnology, to boost agricultural productivity. On the agribusiness side, we will introduce an annual advanced agribusiness management course, which will cater to CEOs and managers of agribusiness SMEs in the region.

Other than conducting projects on new topics, the Secretariat will also continue the series of projects with value well recognized not only by member countries but also in the Asia-Pacific region in general. In the field of Green Productivity, the Eco-products International Fair (EPIF) has been one of the APO’s flagship programs since we started it in 2004. The EPIF 2011, the seventh in the series, will be held in New Delhi, India, next February, in collaboration with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry; National Productivity Council; and Confederation of Indian Industry. The Secretariat looks forward to receiving your support and active participation in this mega event.

On the GP theme, I would like to congratulate the Malaysia Productivity Corporation for successfully organizing its first international environmental exhibition in Kuala Lumpur last week. I would also like to convey my congratulations to the Philippines, which held a similar event in August. You will recall that Malaysia hosted the first EPIF in 2004, and the Philippines hosted it in 2009. I believe that the recent exhibitions organized by these two countries demonstrate that the seeds we planted for the creation of a sustainable society in the region through the promotion of eco-products are now beginning to grow due to their respective follow up. I am greatly encouraged by the commitment and efforts to promote Green Productivity and eco-product initiatives in individual member countries.

Our efforts to disseminate productivity data and analyses are also continuing. As you know, the objective of the productivity databook project is to assist member countries to understand better their sources of economic growth through a harmonized methodology that allows comparative productivity analysis across member countries and against benchmarked countries such as the USA. Following its release in 2007, the APO Productivity Databook is now often cited by other international organizations such as Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and Asian Development Bank. Another tangible output of the project is the Asian Quarterly Growth Map on the APO website, which tracks the latest GDP growth rate of member countries together with their current economic indicators. Moving forward, the APO will be embarking on research and measurement programs in the areas of energy and human capital, if budget would allow us to do so.

Food safety management is another subject area that we have been actively pursuing. We started projects focusing on this theme around four years ago. They remain in high demand, especially among SMEs in the food sector. Food safety is a very dynamic topic since new developments arise every year. Therefore, one of the objectives in this area is to update agrifood SMEs on the latest regulations and standards in developed countries as well as on state-of-the-art techniques for keeping food products safe. Given the strong interest and support from member countries, we intend to continue projects centering on food safety management in the next biennium.

The APO’s efforts to make a difference are illustrated more fully in the report on the impact evaluation study conducted by an independent expert. Since last year, the APO’s impact evaluation has employed new methodology. This includes conducting evaluations onsite and face-to-face interviews not only with former participants but also with their supervisors. The assigned expert has reported a clear, immediate impact of APO projects in demonstration companies in Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, among others. The Secretariat will present the highlights and main findings in the next agenda item.

Our initiative to promote the productivity movement in Africa continues to receive enthusiastic responses from countries in the Pan African Productivity Association. The APO’s outreach to Africa is financed exclusively by special cash grants, and this year it is being continued thanks to a generous grant from the Republic of China. The expansion of the productivity movement beyond the Asia-Pacific region has increased the presence and recognition of the APO and NPOs. We were informed that the Summit of the Heads of States of the African Union had adopted the African Productivity Agenda in January 2010. The Secretariat sincerely hopes that member countries recognize the importance of this project in the mid to long term and will continue to support it in 2011 as well as 2012.

The Secretariat also greatly appreciates the special cash grants that have been very helpful in broadening the scope and outreach of APO activities. For example, the grant from Japan makes it possible to give special attention to developing member countries in the Mekong region. The grant from the Republic of Korea has facilitated the deputation of experts in a number of projects. While I am fully aware of each member country’s budgetary constraints, I sincerely hope that we can continue to receive special cash grants from member countries in the next and future years.

The continuity and quality of our activities also depend on the capability and strength of the Secretariat. In terms of infrastructure, the Secretariat has recently replaced its e-mail system, and work is underway to revamp the APO website to give it more useful features by the end of the year. These efforts should enable the Secretariat to achieve greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness in coordination with NPOs and reduce the cost of maintaining its website since updates will be done in-house.

Regarding plans for the APO 50th anniversary next year, the Secretariat will carefully examine how we may arrange for an appropriate event to observe it in conjunction with the GBM and within the budget available.

Attendance at this WSM is certainly a very important, eye-opening experience for me and I am very much looking forward to our interactions in the coming three days. In closing, I would once again like to thank the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand, especially the FTPI, for graciously hosting the 51st session of the WSM. I hope that all the delegates, advisers, and observers will have an enjoyable stay in Bangkok, a city that always combines traditional Thai warmth with bustling dynamism.

Thank you.

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