Dodwell in SOM 2 Meetings at Kazan - Post 6

June 01, 2012

Through the early part of this week our long-standing staffer from ABAC Japan, Omamu Kamikawa, Japan kept lonely vigil at the APEC Business Mobility Group (BMG). It seems he has been faithfully attending the BMG, and speaking on ABAC’s behalf, for years. The BMG folks are all about managing people across borders – visas and that kind of stuff. Much of their work is dull and technical, but what has made it important for ABAC, and justifiable for Kamikawa-san, is that BMG is home of discussion on the much-loved APEC Travel Card. While we always talk glowingly of the Travel Card as one of APEC’s iconic successes, truth is that we have been troubled by developments in the past couple of years, and Kamikawa-san has been our voice on these issues. It still takes months to get a card with a critical mass of APEC economies signed up; and many business travelers have found it increasingly difficult to qualify for a card. Many immigration departments don’t like the additional work involved. We are calling for quicker approval and issuance, and we are keen to see a five year card replace the current three year card. We are keen to see arrangements put in place that mean your card stays valid even if you have to change your passport. In short,  Kamikawa-san presses our case every SOM. Important, thankless work.

But there have been additional excitements since September last year in the BMG, because of the launch of the ambitious and still embryonic Travel Facilitation Initiative. ABAC members are quite excited about this US-led initiative, which is intended to take the stress and hassle out of air travel for both business and leisure travelers – from getting visas and checking in, to passport security checks, moving through airports and onto or off planes, and getting your luggage quickly and safely. The Travel Faciliation Initiative is also intended to go beyond the APEC Travel Card to build on a “trusted traveler” idea that will allow qualifying travelers to move much more quickly onto planes and out of airports. It embraces the work of five APEC Working Groups – the BMG, the working group on customs (SCCP) the Transport Working Group, the Counter-terrorism Task Force, and the Tourism Working Group. It was in the BMG in San Francisco last September that we first learned about this initiative, and it remains a valuable source of information about (early) progress. Main concerns for ABAC have been first to get some momentum into the initiative, which is planned to continue to 2015, and second to make sure that it is championed by the right APEC committee. The problem here is that this initiative is supposed to be all about helping to make travel easier – ie facilitation – whereas four of the five committees involved in the initiative are security-focused (visas, customs, terrorism, and control of vehicles across borders).Only the Tourism Working Group has “facilitating” genes.

So Kamikawa-san made important headway at the BMG meeting here in Kazan by discovering that the plan is to give responsibility for the Travel Facilitation Initiative (which I am sure in due course will come to be called the TFI) to the SOM Steering Committee on Economic and Technical Cooperation (SCE). This sounds a good idea: a senior committee, with a facilitative culture. It seems the SCE will create a TFI Steering Council that will drive and coordinate work across the five concerned committees – through to planned completion in 2015. At the heart of the process, APEC will appoint a TFI coordinator. The plan is to hold regular meetings to coordinate, discuss progress, and strategize the TFI.

This all sounds terrific. All we need now is a Steering Council, a coordinator, and a date.

Some of Kazan’s tourist delights that will be much easier to enjoy once the APEC Travel Facilitation Initiative has done its work - Dodwell being a tourist in front of the Kremlin Mosque in Kazan


What happens to APEC members if they try to get out of meetings

* Read Dodwell's other blog posts from Kazan.


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