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New law will speed business travel to Asia

By Kristen Consillio

LAST UPDATED: 5:46 a.m. HST, Nov 13, 2011

President Barack Obama signed a bill Saturday that should make it easier for American business travelers to visit countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards Act enables U.S. business and government travelers that have been screened, are not security risks and have an APEC card to obtain expedited visas, use the same customs lanes as air crews at airports and take multiple trips to most of the other 20 APEC nations for three years without having to get a new visa each time.

"This is going to help our whole state to further the relationships that we've developed this week," said Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. "Face-to-face contact is the way to build these relationships, so we have to ease travel restrictions wherever possible."

The legislation, introduced by Hawaii Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, was touted as a measure that will spur job growth and partnerships between APEC countries by making travel across the Asia-Pacific region easier, faster and more secure.

Participating APEC nations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Taipei, Thailand and Vietnam, according to the APEC website.

The APEC Business Travel Card program was started in 1997.

Obama also announced the country's commitment to bilateral "trusted traveler" cooperation agreements with the Republic of Korea and Singapore that could translate into more visitors to Hawaii from those countries.

"This is just the beginning. Over time we're working very hard to make it easier for our neighbors throughout the Asia-Pacific region to come to America for business or vacation and that will benefit our economy," Schatz added.

The program will allow eligible U.S., Korean and Singaporean citizens to clear immigration and customs faster using automated border gates.

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