Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell's (D-WA) bill to support expanded business travel and trade with the Asia-Pacific region passed the Senate by unanimous consent and now heads to the House for approval. The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and will help facilitate business travel and trade with the Asia-Pacific region by removing burdens on international travelers.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) Business Travel Card Act (S. 1487) would allow business leaders from the United States and senior government officials who are actively engaged in APEC business to receive APEC Business Travel Cards (ABTCs) that would help expedite their international travel within the 21 APEC member countries.
In 2010, Washington state exported over $53 billion worth of goods, making Washington state fourth in the nation for exports and third in the nation for exports per capita. Washington state exports going to the Asia-Pacific region were valued at $37 billion, or 69 percent of the total value of all Washington state products exported last year, according to the USTR. Together, the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle comprise the second largest load center in the nation. Last year, $704 million in state revenue was generated from port activities.
"Washington state business leaders stand ready to tap new opportunities for the growth of our exports," Cantwell said. "This bill will help them do so by allowing our business community to enjoy the same expedited travel that other APEC countries enjoy. With one in three jobs in Washington state tied to trade, this bill will support Washington's trade economy. I look forward to working with my colleagues to move this bill forward and help expand Washington business travel and trade with APEC countries."
APEC member economies account for 41 percent of the world's population, 54 percent of world Gross Domestic Product and approximately 44 percent of global trade, according to the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Last year, U.S. exports to APEC countries accounted for almost 60 percent of overall U.S. exports. Nine of the top 15 U.S. export markets for goods are APEC member economies. U.S. goods and services trade with APEC economies totaled $1.9 trillion in 2009.
The following six national organizations support the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference Business Travel Card Act: National Center for APEC; National Foreign Trade Council; US-ASEAN Business Council; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; The US-China Business Council, Inc.; and the U.S. Council for International Business.
Started in 1997, the ABTC program is recognized by all 21 APEC nations, but only 18 nations, excluding the United States, Russia and Canada, currently issue the travel cards to their eligible passport holders. As a transitional member of the program, the United States currently recognizes foreign-issued ABTCs but does not issue them to U.S. passport holders. The APEC Business Travel Card Act would allow U.S. passport holders to participate in the program and enjoy the same expedited travel benefits that ABTC travelers in the 18 other participating countries currently enjoy.
Foreign-issued ABTC travelers must still obtain U.S. visas as required by United States law; however, they have access to expedited visa interview scheduling at U.S. embassies and consulates, and expedited immigration processing through airline crew and diplomat immigration lanes upon arrival in the United States. Under current law, U.S. passport holders are not yet eligible to apply for the ABTC program and therefore do not enjoy these same benefits in Asia-Pacific countries.
Since the ABTC program was started in 1997, applications received by participating countries have grown each year by more than 100 percent. By 2008, there were more than 34,000 cards being used by APEC countries.