The mobility of business people is a key factor in the promotion of free and open trade. APEC member economies are committed to enhancing business mobility by exchanging information on regulatory regimes and streamlining immigration processes for business travellers and temporary residence of business people. It is one the areas of the Osaka Action Agenda (OAA), adopted by APEC Economic Leaders in 1995.
In response to the OAA, the Business Mobility Group (BMG) was formed in 1997 when the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) made the facilitation of business travel a priority. Since its establishment, the group maintains close consultation with the business community, represented by the ABAC, in the development of the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme and other BMG initiatives.
The recognition of the importance of mobility in the region is reiterated in the 2011 APEC Economic Leaders’ Declaration which endorsed the APEC Travel Facilitation Initiative to explore ways to make travel in the region faster, easier, and more secure. The BMG is dedicated to working on initiatives that improve the efficiency and comfort of APEC business travelers, while ensuring passenger safety and border security. In so doing, the group is to enhance cooperation with other relevant APEC working groups.
The BMG held a series of activities on Jan 28-31, 2013 during the First APEC Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) held in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Group agreed on a set of goals for 2013 in recognition of the Vladivostok Declaration, the directives and priorities of APEC Leaders and Ministers, Senior Officials and the Committee on Trade and Investment (CTI), and in support of Indonesia’s priority of Attaining the Bogor Goals; Achieving Sustainable Growth with Equity, and Promoting Connectivity in 2013 and the APEC theme for 2013 “Resilient Asia-Pacific, Engine of Global Growth."
The BMG goals of 2013 include: enhancing traveler facilitation and border integrity in the APEC region; making it easier and faster for people to travel to do business in the APEC region; and further enhancing the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme.
The Group agreed on several key issues including:
- A protocol for dealing with lost and stolen cards, which will be uploaded to the APEC Information Management Portal (AIMP) as a common reference for members.
- Amendment to the transitional membership category in the ABTC Operating Framework to give greater certainty to the remaining transitional members to assist in their internal efforts to secure the necessary investments to become full members.
- Implementation of reporting arrangements to BMG of border trials where ABTC holders are facilitated through automated border clearance systems.
In addition, the BMG will continue to work on promoting regulatory cooperation and convergence by finalizing its review of Professional Immigration Standards, continuing its review of Legal Infrastructure Standards, and encouraging self-assessment against the APEC Best Practice Border Capabilities Model for Air Travel to initiate opportunities for information sharing and capacity building to encourage development of capabilities.
With regard to cross-group initiatives such as APEC Travel Facilitation Initiative (TFI) and the Dialogue on Emergency Response Travel Facilitation (ERTF), the BMG will enhance its cooperation with other APEC working groups, such as the Counter-Terrorism Task Force (CTTF), the Sub-Committee on Customs Procedures (SCCP), and the Emergency Preparedness Working Group (EPWG) to increase cross-group engagement and, where appropriate, leadership in relation to passenger risk analysis, including further development of the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS); data quality; and the use of information and technology to enhance border facilitation and control.
The BMG also discussed the progress made by transitional members of the ABTC scheme. Further announcement will be made by respective transitional members when they are ready to issue cards to their business persons.
As travel facilitation covers a wide arrange of issues, such cooperation is necessary to bring synergy among various initiatives and resources of the relevant working groups. The BMG will also continue its close consultation with the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) to include private sector input. ABAC is invited to the BMG meetings to provide business perspectives on business mobility issues.
The BMG will meet again at the third Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) in Medan, Indonesia in June 2013 and will continue its work intersessionally through exchanges of information with the aim of producing policy recommendations and follow up actions on these issues.
The APEC Business Travel Card
As a major support to business mobility, the APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC) scheme provides bona fide business travellers with pre-cleared entry to participating APEC economies. The ABTC holders enjoy fast-track entry and exit through special APEC lanes at major airports, and multiple short term entry to these economies.
With Russia's accession to the scheme in May 2010, all of APEC's 21 member economies now participate. The fully participating economies are: Australia; Brunei Darussalam; Chile; China; Hong Kong, China; Indonesia; Japan; Korea; Malaysia; Mexico; New Zealand; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Singapore; Chinese Taipei; Thailand; and Viet Nam. Canada, Russia and the United States are transitional members.
According to the APEC Policy Support Unit study on “The Impact of Business Mobility in Reducing Trade Transaction Costs in APEC”, the ABTC scheme reduced transaction costs for ABTC holders by 38% between March-July 2010 and March-July 2011, representing a total savings of USD3.7 million. Total at-the-border immigration time savings experienced by ABTC holders for the period March-July 2010 through March-July 2011 is 62,413 hours, a monetary value of USD1.9 million.
In 2011, a new security-enhanced APEC Business Travel Card was circulated. The new card is equipped with features that can prevent alteration and counterfeiting.
The development of a new ABTC website is underway. The new website will provide better information to both the ABTC holders and applicants on the scheme.
The APEC Business Travel Handbook
APEC Business Travel Handbook is a practical tool which provides a quick reference guide to the visa and entry requirements of APEC member economies. It lists the basic eligibility criteria and procedures for applying for visas and the terms and conditions that apply to business travelers. This information is provided for both short-term business visits and temporary residence for business people in APEC member economies.
Other key achievements of the BMG include:
The group is working on a ”border capability model” - a document that lays out key capacities in every step of business movement through air. The document will serve as a map for authorities in member economies to identify areas for improving movement of citizens, especially for business persons.
The group continues to work on building economies' capacity to process and adopt machine readable travel documents, to incorporate biometric data and to improve travel document security and integrity, thereby improving security and border control processes.
It also develops best practice travel document examination regimes across the region to assist with the detection of fraudulent documentation, including through the Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS) initiative.
The group is also preparing and upgrading standards to improve the security of travel documentation and immigration legal infrastructure, so as to enhance the security of borders and address the illegal movement of people.
The group also examines ways to streamline processing procedures for business travellers, and individual economy’s actions to facilitate business travel, for example by expanding visa-waiver programmes or extending the validity of multiple-entry visas.
Agnieszka HOLLAND (Ms)
Border Security Policy Branch
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
Anh Tuan TU (Mr)