Dodwell's blog on SOM1 Ningbo - Post 2

February 18, 2014

Monday was the Business Mobility Group and the day of the APEC Business Travel Card – and we were tantalizingly close to that rare APEC phenomenon – a truly newsworthy development. We got within a hair’s breadth and winning full and formal endorsement to extend the life of the ABTC to five years. Even now, it is possible in the coming week or so that we might wrestle to closure on this breakthrough. Between 20 approving economies and success was just one bureaucratic and procrastinating economy. No names mentioned. They know who they are.
Despite the tantalizing frustration of failing to get closure on extension of the life of the ABTC, there was a second quieter but very significant success – agreement that a change in passport, with the inevitable changes in passport number, date of issue and date of expiry, would no longer kill the ABTC. For those economies lacking the technology to manage this, our officials agreed there would be investment in capacity building.
The meeting started well with a strong presentation from ABAC Japan’s Mika Takahashi on the key findings of the Japan-championed survey of business views on the ABTC. We in ABAC saw these findings back in Bali in September last year, but this was our first opportunity to take the findings to our ABAC officials. We provided the perfect backdrop for the subsequent discussions on managing passport changes without nullifying the ABTC, and on the issue of extension to five years.
The single procrastinator insisted that their economy was not in any way opposed to extending the life of an ABTC to five years. However, they noted that the BMG was on the cusp of contracting an independent expert to undertake an “end-to-end” review of the ABTC, with instructions to report insights and recommendations back to BMG in October. They believed that in view of this consultancy, a decision to extend from three to five years was premature. It was important to embed this issue in a comprehensive review, with recommendations left to an independent, external expert.
Our procrastinator was in a minority of one, but stuck to its guns. Huddles now commence “intersessionally”. Agony sometimes to watch consensus politics at work.
On balance, we should perhaps not be too impatient. The mood of the room was hugely in favour of extending the life of the ABTC to five years, so I think we can be confident that agreement can soon be achieved. But it would have been so nice to declare victory yesterday.
Beyond this dominating issue, the day’s other main sub-theme was the idea seeded at iSOM in December by China as incoming chair of APEC that we should be considering new kinds of travel card to facilitate “people-to-people” connectivity and better regional integration. The Emergency Preparedness Working Group is already working on an Emergency Response Worker Card, and we in ABAC are advocating an APEC Regional Skilled Worker Card to improve the management of movement of temporary workers around the region. China in the iSOM brainstorm queried the potential for an APEC Student Travel Card, and even a Tourist Card. My sense is that the latter is wildly impractical. Just looking at economies like Hong Kong welcoming in the region of 40 million tourists a year, and it seems clear that such a card would surely put impossible strain on the system – and would probably wholly undermine the fundamental aim of speedier passage through immigration channels at airports.
But the issue is now out of the box, and we will no doubt spend much time both in BMG and in the Human Resources Development Working Group on the potential for new cards. We were reminded yesterday that when ABAC more than a decade ago proposed the creation of an ABTC, we were laughed out of the room. And look where we have come today.. With patience, more is possible than we imagine.[ Back ]