Obama Signs Bill Facilitating Business Travel to Asia-Pacific

As part of the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting (APEC), which took place Nov. 7-13 in Honolulu, President Barack Obama signed new legislation giving U.S. citizens access to the APEC Business Travel Card program, which makes it easier for Americans to visit the Asia-Pacific region on business, APEC announced last week.

The APEC Business Travel Card increases business travelers' mobility by expediting scheduling of visa interviews and fast-tracking processing at immigration checkpoints at major airports and seaports in APEC economies throughout the Pacific Rim, encompassing 21 member countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Japan and Russia, among others.

"I just signed a piece of legislation that was voted on unanimously out of Congress that essentially sets up an APEC business gold card," Obama told attendees at the APEC summit on Saturday. "Everybody here appreciates it because they're not going to have to wait in line as long at the airport."

Said Rich Lavin, group president of Caterpillar and a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC), "[This law] is good news for U.S. business people as they travel in the region, working to expand into Asia-Pacific markets and business opportunities for their companies."

Currently, the United States fast-tracks card holders from other countries via special lanes at immigration checkpoints. The new legislation, which passed the U.S. Congress earlier this month, allows America business people to apply for the cards for reciprocal rights in the region.

More than 100,000 active cardholders currently enjoy APEC Business Travel Card benefits. That's up from 88,421 at the end of 2010, which itself was up 11.4 percent from 2009 and 430 percent from 2006. A recent survey of existing cardholders found that transaction costs for cardholders were reduced by 38 percent from March-July 2011 over the previous 12 months, which translates to total savings of $3.7 million. It also found that cardholders saved 43.3 percent in time costs completing visa applications over the 12-month period used in the survey, spent 27.8 percent less money on fees for visa applications and saved 54.4 percent in time costs completing immigration procedures at airports.

"The [APEC Business Travel Card] is one of APEC's great success stories; it contributes to APEC's goal of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific, and shows how practical cooperation can be achieved," said Agnieszka Holland, chair of the APEC Business Mobility Group, which oversees the program.