Feature: Advancing Asia’s Public Affairs Dialogue with Washington


As regional US business leaders prepare for the 2015 APCAC Summit in Singapore,  Steven R. Okun and Thomas H. McNutt predict further meaningful engagement between Asia and the United States

2015 promises to be a landmark year for both the United States and U.S. business in Asia.  There is little doubt that the rebalance announced by the Obama administration is real. The key question, however, is how much President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress can accomplish this year before the 2016 campaign cycle overwhelms the ability to achieve significant bipartisan in Washington.  Many of the potential areas of collaboration relate to “the three Ts” that most impact US business in Asia — Trade, Taxes, and Travel.

Leaders in Washington consider the views seriously of those who work and live day-to-day with the complexities of the Asia-Pacific region. While US companies have public policy offices in Washington which result in constant input into the governmental process, decision makers in DC value hearing about issues from the “boots on the ground”.

The annual conference of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (“APCAC”) sets the stage and the agenda for the broader AmCham community year’s dialogue with Washington. While many conferences focus on specific sectors or regions in Asia, the APCAC Business Summit is the only gathering of business leaders from all sectors and regions in Asia-Pacific with the goal of formulating the message American business in Asia sends to Washington. This year’s summit will be hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore at Marina Bay Sands on March 11-13.

The theme, “The United States and Asia – New Opportunities in the Pacific Century,” builds on previous summits’ themes about Asia’s growth and global influence. The Summit will address issues affecting Asia-Pacific, explore what the future holds for the region, and develop the message for Washington.

Keynote speakers include Minister Lim Hng Kiang, Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry; George Tanasijevich, President and Chief Executive Officer, Marina Bay Sands, and Jim Rogers, Global Investor and Author of Street Smarts: Adventures on the Road and in the Markets. These speakers and other recognized authorities from business, government, and academia will identify critical trends and provide in-depth analyses across a broad variety of important issues related to trade, taxes, and travel.

Trade

APCAC’s focus on trade in 2015 centers on working towards a signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and with it passage of legislation granting the President Trade Promotion Authority (“TPA”).

Widely referred to as the first 21st century trade agreement, TPP addresses issues of not only what happens in trade at the border and across the border, but, most significantly, what happens behind the border.

This focus on addressing behind-the-border issues is what truly differentiates the TPP from past trade agreements. What business needs most today are not only access to a market, but to a level playing field once it is operating inside that market. Transparency in the licensing and regulatory process, competition with state-owned enterprises, and the protection of intellectual property, labor standards and the environment are areas which the TPP addresses.

Congress has given Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush the authority to negotiate trade agreements. Trade Promotion Authority is essential to concluding trade agreements that boost U.S. exports and create American jobs. TPA will assist the goal of passing TPP as well as other trade agreements.

Taxes

The tax regime facing US businesses and its citizens is an outlier. Adopting a territorial tax system in line with the rest of the world is one of the key APCAC tenets as this will put the U.S. on-balance with other countries, promote exports and create more investment and jobs for U.S. companies and U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens living and working abroad are some of the best ambassadors for the U.S. The U.S. tax code should provide a level playing field when it comes to taxes for both U.S. citizens and U.S. corporations.

Travel

APCAC has long argued for the ability for American businessmen and women to move freely across markets in Asia in order to maximize U.S. commercial opportunities. For years our counterparts from other APEC countries had access to the APEC Business Travel Card (“ABTC”) while Americans did not.

The passage of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Travel Cards (ABTC) Act in 2011 and its signing into law by President Obama is a key example of how both parties can work together to advance US business interests.

In mid-2014, the United States began issuing APEC Business Travel Cards to its citizens, closing the gap in ease of travel for American business leaders. The US is taking a two-phased approach. The first is to issue the card which waives the need to wait in immigration queues in APEC markets. The second phase will allow for visa-free travel within APEC.

The cards, where recognized have been hugely beneficial, allowing Americans to spend less time at airports across the region and more time growing their businesses.

However, certain APEC economies such as the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia and Taiwan are not recognizing the US-phased approach to the ABTC.

APCAC and its constituent member chambers are working closely with the United States government to iron out the remaining kinks regarding acceptance of the card. Attendees at the conference will have the opportunity to schedule in-person interviews for the APEC Business Travel Card, a process that usually requires a trip to the United States.

Steven R. Okun is Director, Public Affairs, KKR Asia Pacific and served as the Chairman of AmCham Singapore from 2008-2011 and as Chairman of APCAC from 2011-2014.

Thomas H. McNutt is the Head of Government and Public Affairs, AmCham Singapore.

Visit http://apcac2015.amcham.org.sg for more information and to register for the 2015 APCAC Business Summit at an early bird rate until February 8.  If you have any questions about the conference, please email Tom McNutt at tmcnutt@amcham.org.sg

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