Economics / President Barack Obama brought the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference to its eagerly anticipated–at least for Honolulu residents–close on Sunday, Nov. 13 at Ko Olina.
“I want to begin by thanking the people of Hawaii for their extraordinary hospitality, and their patience, because I know traffic got tied up a bit,” said Obama at the concluding press conference held on the makai lawn of the JW Marriott Hotel with a picturesque backdrop of palm trees and crashing waves.
APEC resulted in protests, back-room trade agreements, and yes, many road closures. It also placed Hawaii on the national stage for a week. The conference drew the leaders of 21 member economies–representing 40 percent of the entire world’s economy–as well as hundreds of business leaders, CEOs, journalists and broadcasters from all over the world.
“Usually when Michelle and I and our daughters come back to visit, it’s just one president,” said Obama, “and this time we brought 21.”
With APEC being the primary vehicle for promoting open trade and diplomatic economics among Pacific nations, much of the talk this year involved the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a US-led free trade agreement currently under negotiations, with the intent to eventually render the entire Asia-Pacific region a free trade zone.
“As I announced yesterday,” Obama continued on Sunday evening, “the United States and our eight partners reached the broad outlines of an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
The United States’ partners in the agreement include Australia, Chile and Vietnam, among others, while Japan, Canada and Mexico have all expressed interest in participating in future TPP negotiations. China, however–like many of the protesters roaming the Waikiki area throughout the week–remains skeptical about the agreement.
Obama hopes the TPP will be finalized as early as next year.
Among the busiest of bureaucrats visiting Hawaii during APEC this year was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton was the first high level US official to speak at APEC, with an address on Thursday at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Clinton also spoke at the CEO Summit and chaired several APEC meetings, speaking in open support of the TPP and noting how much progress has been made towards its culmination during the previous year’s meetings.
“I am well aware that we all have differences in our individual approaches to policy making,” said Clinton at an APEC ministerial meeting held Friday, Nov. 11 at the Hawaii Convention Center, “but I also know that the shared belief in markets, trade and investment are vital to our prosperity.”
Clinton spoke of how getting things accomplished has been the primary focus of all APEC ministerial meetings held this year, including those that took place in Washington, Montana and California.
“We’ve even created an unofficial slogan,” Clinton said, “‘Get stuff done.’ And we have.”
The areas of progress outlined–broadly, as was the trend–in speeches by both Clinton and Obama included integrating markets and trade, promoting green growth and deepening regulatory cooperation between APEC member economies.
The president spoke for 42 minutes to a group of about 150 press members from all over the world at his concluding press conference, fielding questions about Iran’s nuclear program, remarks made by 2012 Republican hopefuls during debates and even the recent Penn State scandal. Although APEC specific questions were few among the pre selected inquisitors, one reporter asked Obama why the delegates did not wear aloha shirts in the APEC leaders’ “family photo,” where leaders have traditionally worn a shirt or a jacket that represents the host nation’s culture.
“I take enormous pride in having been raised in the state of Hawaii,” said Obama, “but we’re here for business.”
Showcasing Hawaii as a center for diplomatic meetings and as a place of high level business among Pacific nations was touted as a positive aspect of the hard work that went into the summit. But is APEC 2011 an example of what Hawaii residents can expect at future meetings, and is that in their best interest?
Many residents lost time at work due to APEC-induced traffic problems, and those who came to Hawaii on vacation were greeted by an island-paradise police state.
Obama’s press conference convened just as the sun was slipping below the horizon, and fading right along with it was APEC and all of its inconveniences. The road blocks were cleared; the foreign journalists and delegates eventually returned to their respective nations. In Honolulu, things began to slow down again–in a good way.