The ABTCs of Competiveness for U.S. Business Travelers to Asia

By Steve Okun

Passenger jet takes off over the Pacific. A bill to aid U.S. businesses traveling to APEC countries is under Congressional review. Source: flickr user The-Lane-Team's photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Following the passage of the three Free Trade Agreements, Congress has another chance to improve U.S. competitiveness in the Asia Pacific region.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s APEC business travel card bill will be marked up next week by the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and hopefully will then receive quick Senate and House passage before the upcoming APEC annual conference to be held in Hawaii.  The co-sponsors for the bill are Senators Akaka (HI), Inouye (HI) and Johnson (WI).

The Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC) has been urging Congress to pass the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Card Act of 2011 to give American business travelers the equivalent ability for seamless travel in the region enjoyed by many foreign competitors. This will promote U.S. exports into the world’s fastest growing region.

Passage of the Act will enable the Department of Homeland Security to distribute the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) to Americans. The ABTC facilitates business travel, investment, and trade opportunities in the APEC region and ensures more efficient business travel.  Businesspeople of 18 APEC economies can already use the ABTC, and U.S. businesses face a competitive disadvantage because their U.S. citizen employees are currently not included in the ABTC program. Significantly, citizens of the APEC economies already enjoy expedited lines at U.S. airports.

The ABTC Act will be especially useful to U.S. business travelers in Asia as it allows frequent business travelers greater ease in travel. There are 57,000 ABTC cardholders, yet the U.S. government has not issued any to Americans while recognizing the card at U.S. airports for foreign business travelers.  No further liberalization of U.S. immigration rules or homeland security measures would be required by the Act.  Passage of the Act is a clear win-win.

APEC developed the ABTC in response to the need for business people to gain streamlined entry to the economies of the Asia-Pacific region. The card further advances APEC’s goal of free and open trade and investment as qualified business people from participating countries can access APEC countries with ease.

The following economies currently participate in the ABTC scheme: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, and Vietnam. The United States, Canada, and Russia are transitional members.

Steven R. Okun is the Chairman of APCAC, served as the Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore (2008-2011), and currently serves of the Board of AmCham Singapore and of the Council of the Singapore Business Federation.