For the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum to be a success, the hosts must provide delegates from 21 countries with reliable telecommunications, easy airport access and efficient hotel operations over tourist-tailored niceties, the U.S. ambassador-delegate to APEC said yesterday on the eve of Honolulu’s first official APEC event of the year.
"APEC is a business-oriented organization," said Kurt Tong, economic coordinator and the senior U.S. official at APEC, based in Singapore. "It’s talking about trade and investment liberalization. So these are business meetings that are taking place. And if all 10,000 people that come to Hawaii for this very important business meeting emerge with a sense that something significant took place there, they’re going to go home with a sense that this a place to do business, just naturally."
Peter Ho, chairman, president and CEO of Bank of Hawaii, is chairman of the APEC 2011 host committee and told the Star-Advertiser that the November forum can elevate Honolulu’s stature in the Asia-Pacific region as a serious place to do business.
But Ho also hopes the serious talks affecting the economies of 21 nations are touched by a sense of Hawaiian culture.
Tong just returned from the November 2010 APEC forum in Yokohama, Japan, and is in Honolulu for APEC’s "informal senior officials meeting" tomorrow and Thursday at the East-West Center. The meeting begins a year of preparations for the major conference of leaders, which is scheduled to include President Barack Obama.
Based on what he saw in Yokohama, Tong said he agrees that the delegates to the city would welcome an understanding of Hawaiian culture.
"I’m hoping we have something that involves the people of Hawaii more," Tong said. "I hope we involve a lot of volunteers and that our friends from Asia-Pacific will get to see a lot of people from Hawaii."
But with Obama in attendance — along with the leaders of 20 other nations — security will be tight in Waikiki, and touches of island culture likely will have to be brought to the busy delegates, Tong said.
"You’ll find it’s a fairly intense crowd," Tong said. "Some delegates are just so busy that they can’t do anything but sit in front of a computer all day. They’ll be looking for things to be done efficiently so they can get their jobs done. If they find that’s the case, that will reflect on Hawaii, and they’ll go home with the impression that they had a good business meeting in Hawaii and they got a lot done in a place that’s geographically convenient. It just needs to be organized well."
So far, Tong has been impressed by the Honolulu organizers. "It’s early days, but the people on the host committee so far are extremely organized and very committed," he said. "Everything seems to be on track."
Delegates who were in Yokohama already have expectations that their work will accelerate by November, Tong said.
"People are the most energetic I’ve seen," he said. "There is an emerging willingness following a serious, global financial crisis, and 2011 is now the time to figure out how to structure economies to achieve the best possible growth. We’re ready to get to work."
The delegates at Yokohama agreed in concept to a free-trade agreement among all 21 nations, and the U.S. delegation is working with others to push ahead for a binding agreement.
The U.S. delegation also continues to work on "next-generation trade issues," such as eliminating inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and developing partnerships that will "try to bring all of the regulatory frameworks closer together," Tong said.
"If we can make progress on a trans-Pacific partnership and trade and investment issues," he said, "Honolulu will be declared a success."