WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Daniel K Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), introduced bipartisan legislation this week to help facilitate business travel and trade with the Asia-Pacific region by removing burdens on international travel.
The bipartisan Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travel Card Act (S. 1487) would allow business leaders from the United States and senior government officials who are actively engaged in APEC business to receive APEC Business Travel Cards (ABTCs) that would help expedite their international travel within the 21 APEC member countries.
APEC member economies account for 41 percent of the world’s population, 54 percent of world Gross Domestic Product and approximately 44 percent of global trade, according to the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Last year, U.S. exports to APEC countries accounted for almost 60 percent of overall U.S. exports. Nine of the top 15 U.S. export markets for goods are APEC member economies. U.S. goods and services trade with APEC economies totaled $1.9 trillion in 2009.
“American officials and business leaders operating in APEC nations must be able to travel to and from their destinations in expedited fashion,” Inouye said. “Job creation and expanding international trade is a critical part of preparing our nation for the rigors of the global economy at a time when we are emerging from a recession. I am very pleased that we are embracing this expedited approach to business travel in a bipartisan fashion. Hawaii is America’s gateway to Asia and we have long championed efforts to facilitate international commerce.”
“This bill is a common sense measure that will advance U.S. trade with other APEC nations by expediting travel for U.S. business leaders and government officials engaged in APEC-related business,” Akaka said. “This bipartisan legislation reinforces a key goal of the upcoming APEC Leaders’ Meetings in Hawaii, which is to strengthen regional economic integration and expand trade. It will also place U.S. business travelers on par with citizens of other APEC members who already take advantage of the travel cards’ benefits.”
“Fast and efficient international travel is very important to building the business relationships that grow our export economy,” Cantwell said. “With one in three jobs in Washington state tied to trade and our close proximity to the Asia-Pacific region, Washington business leaders stand ready to create expanded export opportunities for our products. This bill would allow our business community to enjoy the same expedited travel that other APEC countries enjoy and help bolster our trade economy.”
“The Senate’s not doing enough to encourage job creation,” Johnson said. “We ought to be focusing on getting Washington out of the way of the free market, so companies can grow and create jobs. The APEC Business Travel Card Act is a step in the right direction. It helps give Americans equal treatment at airports abroad that foreign travelers enjoy here. This levels the playing field and makes it easier for American travelers to access foreign markets.”
The following six national organizations support the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card Act: National Center for APEC; National Foreign Trade Council; US-ASEAN Business Council; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; The US-China Business Council, Inc.; and the U.S. Council for International Business.
Started in 1997, the ABTC program is recognized by all 21 APEC nations, but only 18 nations, excluding the United States, Russia and Canada, currently issue the travel cards to their eligible passport holders. As a transitional member of the program, the United States currently recognizes foreign-issued ABTCs but does not issue them to U.S. passport holders. The APEC Business Travel Card Act would allow U.S. passport holders to participate in the program and enjoy the same expedited travel benefits that ABTC travelers in the 18 other participating countries currently enjoy.
Foreign-issued ABTC travelers must still obtain U.S. visas as required by United States law; however, they have access to expedited visa interview scheduling at U.S. embassies and consulates, and expedited immigration processing through airline crew and diplomat immigration lanes upon arrival in the United States. Under current law, U.S. passport holders are not yet eligible to apply for the ABTC program and therefore do not enjoy these same benefits in Asia-Pacific countries.
Since the ABTC program was started in 1997, applications received by participating countries have grown each year by more than 100 percent. By 2008, there were more than 34,000 cards being used by APEC countries.