POSTED: 01:03 p.m. HST, Oct 31, 2011
The world's attention will be focused on Hawaii when the presidents, prime ministers, Cabinet members, corporate CEOs and legions of journalists from the 21 member economies of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) gather in Honolulu for a series of "Leaders' Week" meetings Nov. 7-13.
Hundreds of Island businesses and residents have spent countless hours planning the complex logistics of the APEC events under the leadership of the Hawaii Host Committee, the U.S. State Department and the Secret Service. I feel confident that this will be one of the best APEC Leaders' Weeks ever.
APEC brings together an extraordinarily diverse group of economies::
» Big nations like the U.S., China and Russia, and small ones like Peru and Singapore.
» Economic powerhouses like Japan and Korea, and developing economies like Malaysia and Mexico.
» Continental nations like Russia and Chile, and island states like the Philippines, Indonesia and New Zealand.
Yet despite such extraordinary diversity, and even a history of wars between some of APEC's members, the leaders of these economies — accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world's population, 60 percent of world's gross domestic product and 44 percent of world trade — have been meeting every year since 1989 in an effort to improve the lives of billions of people.
Their accomplishments have been significant:
» As the forum for free and open trade in the region, APEC has lowered trade barriers among its members by an impressive 70 percent (between 1989 and 2004).
» At the same time, APEC members have concluded more than 30 bilateral free trade agreements with each other, including the recent agreement between the United States and South Korea.
» Thanks to these lower barriers, trade in merchandise among APEC members has grown an average of 8.5 percent a year.
» And thanks to the growth this has helped stimulate, the proportion of the APEC economies' population in poverty has been more than halved.
I felt very proud when President Barack Obama announced, at the 2009 APEC meeting in Singapore, that the 2011 Leaders' Week would take place in Hawaii. And the more I learned more about APEC's meetings and its member economies and accomplishments, the more opportunities I saw for Hawaii.
The benefits for our visitor industry are clear, as APEC can help position Hawaii as a place where serious business can take place — a credibility challenge we have faced for as long as I can remember.
Speaking as a hotelier, the new relationships that have been formed with the economies and corporations attending Leaders' Week are priceless. Many in this industry have already reaped future business because of APEC.
But APEC's benefits go well beyond the benefits to tourism. These meetings are an incomparable opportunity to showcase Hawaii's accomplishments in such areas as renewable energy, health and life sciences, astronomy and agriculture. When have we had an opportunity to share our aloha and the diversity of these islands with so many influential people all at once — not just the government leaders, but the hundreds of APEC CEO Summit participants meeting at the Sheraton Waikiki? The opportunities that these meetings will generate are immeasurable.
But APEC is not just an opportunity for Hawaii to shine. It's a chance for us to learn, too — to see how 21 economies can look past their enormous differences and find common ground on which to build for the benefit of their people.
So let's look beyond a few days of unavoidable inconveniences and embrace APEC with the same energy its members have applied to improving the lives of their people. This will be a gathering to celebrate.