COVID-19: New Zealand no longer physically hosting APEC 2021 - it will now be held online

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters.
Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters. Photo credit: File

New Zealand will no longer physically host APEC 2021 because of COVID-19 - it will now go ahead using virtual digital platforms, the Government has announced.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the global disruption caused by COVID-19, including border restrictions, had been the major factor in the decision.

"COVID-19 has seriously impacted how we conduct international diplomacy. That includes hosting APEC. As has occurred with many other international government-to-government events, APEC21 will proceed using virtual digital platforms."

Peters said given the current global environment, planning to have such a large volume of high-level visitors in New Zealand from late 2020 onwards is "impractical".

"For planning and security reasons, we had to make a call on our APEC hosting now. It wasn't practical to wait for many more months till a clearer picture of the virus' spread emerged."

Leaders' Week isn't till November 2021, but Peters said an in-person APEC we would have seen thousands of people entering the country from late 2020 onwards - some of them from COVID-19 hotspots.

"We simply couldn't guarantee these people would be able to enter New Zealand without being quarantined," he said. "This decision to 'go virtual' is a pragmatic solution which preserves New Zealand's longstanding commitment to host APEC 2021."

Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker said APEC is the leading economic and trade forum in the Asia-Pacific region and believes holding it virtually will still bring success to the event.

It has an important role to play as we and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region work to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, especially its economic impacts," he said.

"Deciding now on the different format of the APEC meetings gives certainty and allows us to focus on achieving meaningful outcomes through virtual means for New Zealand and the APEC membership."

He said the Government will continue to look to find ways to showcase New Zealand and "leverage the virtual hosting of APEC to our national advantage".

Planning for APEC 2021 got off to a rocky start when Auckland's SkyCity convention centre - set to host the trade event - caught on fire in October 2019.

APEC in 2021 was set to be a massive event for New Zealand, with thousands of international visitors. It was tipped as a once-in-20-year investment opportunity.

The total cost of hosting APEC 2021 was expected to be between $265 and $330 million.