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Obama hails APEC success

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 2:04 a.m. HST, Nov 14, 2011

President Barack Obama on Sunday declared the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit a success that will strengthen the U.S. economy, and he expressed gratitude to his hometown for hosting representatives from the 21 APEC nations.

"I want to begin by thanking the people of Hawaii for their extraordinary hospitality," Obama told reporters at Ko Olina resort following another day — and evening — of traffic disruptions as APEC leaders traveled back and forth from Waikiki to the Leeward Coast.

"Usually when Michelle and I and our daughters come back to visit, it's just one president, and this time we brought 21. So thank you so much for the incredible graciousness of the people of Hawaii — and their patience, because I know that traffic got tied up a little bit."

Despite the beauty of a Honolulu backdrop, APEC leaders and representatives met in business suits for serious talks.

And while APEC took a toll on Oahu drivers, the meetings produced substantial results that will help strengthen relations throughout the Asia-Pacific, increase trade and help create jobs for Americans while promoting "green growth," Obama said.

"The single greatest challenge for the United States right now, and my highest priority as president, is creating jobs and putting Americans back to work," Obama said. "And one of the best ways to do that is to increase our trade and exports with other nations. Ninety-five percent of the world's consumers are beyond our borders. I want them to be buying goods with three words stamped on them: made in America."

Sunday's APEC Leaders' Meeting at JW Marriott Ihilani Resort at Ko Olina marked the end of the six days of high-level meetings among the 21 nations, the largest international gathering the state has ever hosted. Earlier meetings were held at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and in Waikiki hotels and featured Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The APEC members discussed a host of regional issues, including free trade and clean energy.

The president, and first lady Michelle Obama, arrived late Friday and hosted a gala luau at the Hale Koa Hotel Saturday night. Over the course of the weekend, the president held several bilateral meetings with heads of state, including Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

In his remarks and in response to reporters' questions, Obama touched on a wide variety of topics that included Iran's nuclear ambitions; criticism of the support for waterboarding expressed by some Republican presidential hopefuls; concerns over China; and even the Penn State child sexual assault scandal.

But the bulk of Obama's more than 40 minutes' worth of remarks was focused on APEC and what the meetings could mean for the U.S. economy and for improving relations with more than half of the world's population throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The meetings produced several positive efforts, Obama said, including:

» A new initiative that will make it easier and faster for people to travel and conduct business across the region, which included legislation Obama signed on Saturday to create a new card that will help American businessmen travel more easily "and get deals done in this region."

» Japan, Canada and Mexico expressing interest in joining the U.S. and eight partners in reaching broad outlines of an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional free-trade zone.

» Agreement on ways to promote green growth for America's energy security. "We agreed to reduce tariffs on environmental goods and make it easier to export clean-energy technologies that create green jobs," Obama said. "We raised the bar on ourselves, and we'll aim for even higher energy efficiencies. And we're moving ahead with the effort to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. This would be a huge step toward creating clean-energy economies and fighting climate change, which is a threat to both the beauty and the prosperity of the region."

» Increased efforts to ensure that regulations encourage trade and job creation. "Our APEC partners are joining us in streamlining and coordinating regulations so that we're sparking innovation and growth even as we protect public health and our environment," Obama said.

Hosting APEC in Honolulu is important, Obama said, because "no region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asian-Pacific region."

Before taking questions from reporters, Obama once again paused to "thank the people of Hawaii for their extraordinary hospitality and for all that they've done to help make this summit such a success," he said. "I want to thank my fellow leaders for the seriousness and sense of common purpose that they brought to our work. And I believe that the progress we've made here will help create jobs and keep America competitive in a region that is absolutely vital not only for our economy, but also for our national security."

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