Voices on APEC


Groups like Pua Mohala I Ka Po and the International Forum on globalization, which are sponsoring a conference called Moana Nui, focus on the way that APEC fails to represent the interests of indigenous peoples and nations – as opposed to “economies” – of the Pacific. According to its website, “Moana Nui is intended to provide a voice and possible direction for the economies of Pacific Islands in the era of powerful transnational corporations, global industrial expansion and global climate change. This conference will issue a challenge to Pacific Island nations and communities to look for cooperative ways to strengthen subsistence and to protect cultural properties and natural resources.”
Arnie Saiki, the coordinator of the Moana Nui conference, explained his view on APEC in “How APEC hurts” (Civil Beat Sept. 20).”It is important to note that besides New Zealand and Papua/New Guinea, there is a noticeable absence of Pacific Island countries in this Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. The smaller, politically independent Pacific islands are represented by the Pacific Island Forum, a non-voting member, while Hawai‘i, Tahiti, Rapanui, West Papua, Guam and American Samoa are still under various forms of occupation and/or colonial administration,” wrote Saiki. In an email to Ka Leo, he also critiqued the economic policies at the heart of APEC, writing, “The neoliberal free-market/free-trade economic hegemony that they are pursuing is diametrically in opposition to localism, to the indigenous stewardship of our lands, peoples and resources. We could say that 99 percent of our 9 billion population, and 100 percent of our biodiversity are saying, ‘No to APEC.’ … All [APEC] hears is ‘sustainable economic growth,’ and in an unsustainable world, it is up to events like Moana Nui to organize peoples and engage in this greater public dialogue, greater public actions.”


On a global scale, conferences like APEC can be seen as part of a dangerous trend toward “neoliberalism” that seek to govern through economic mechanisms rather than through governments that are accountable to their people. Groups like the vocal protesters perhaps best known for their use of the slogan “APEC Sucks,” which includes Eating in Public and World Can’t Wait, are working from this critique of global capitalism. According to “APEC Sucks” pamphlets given out on campus, APEC uses the term “free trade” as a code word for “policies that give imperialist powers and multinational corporations the ‘right’ to go into oppressed countries and take out whatever they want, with as few restrictions as possible.”

“It’s not really about trade, but a system of enforceable global governance,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, at a recent presentation on campus. The nations that take part in trade agreements have to agree to measures like lowering tariffs and decreasing the protection provided by national environmental, consumer, health and labor protection laws. This is not free trade in the sense that Adam Smith espoused, stated Wallach. According to protesters, measures like these could not survive democratic processes, and these “neoliberal policies” seek to incorporate every aspect of human life into the market system by commodifying everything, including food, water, access to health care and common public resources. Eating in Public co-founder Nandita Sharma has spoken in particular about preserving the commons as a way to fight encroachment by global capitalism.


The Occupy Honolulu movement released an official position statement on Nov. 7.
“The Occupy Honolulu General Assembly formally asserts our opposition to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. … Under the guise of ‘free trade,’ corporate-centered policies, APEC enables dominant economies like the United States to force foreign investment and control onto the economies of oppressed countries because their local industries cannot possibly compete with international corporations and the conditions for a free competition market are not met. The effects of these policies are extremely damaging to small local economies. Small local businesses are forced out and replaced by transnational corporations. … APEC is the 1 percent.”


Ka Leo recognizes both positive and negative aspects of APEC’s presence on O‘ahu. According to the lieutenant governor’s website, “APEC is a unique opportunity for the state of Hawai‘i to reinforce its position as a world-class destination, to showcase its economic potential and to highlight its viability as an international business meeting place.” During the summit, Hawai‘i will experience an influx of over 17,000 visitors, providing a boost for the travel industry. These benefits will not end when the international leaders and corporate executives leave the island. The international media exposure APEC receives during the summit is also expected to increase future international travel to Hawai‘i.But residents of Hawai‘i have been affected by road work and public beautification projects, including cleaning up Waikīkī, Nimitz and many areas in between. About $7 million went into aesthetic improvements at the airport. All in all, the city of Honolulu has spent $37 million on APEC and has requested reimbursement from the federal government, but has yet to receive a response. Watchdog news sources like Civil Beat have reported that at the 1993 Seattle APEC conference, the city was only able to procure a portion of the funds spent on the meetings, and this could mean that taxpayers will have to carry the burden of paying for the conference. The estimated $120 million pumped into the local economy by the conference might not even help, as major businesses in Waikīkī and Ala Moana will profit most.

The week of APEC will also see major inconveniences for residents due to road, beach and park closures. Homeless people have already been forced to move, but may not benefit from any sustained societal attention after the conference. Increased security has carried a cost of $700,000 on nonlethal weapons and increasing the number of surveillance cameras in affected areas. Residents will have to show ID to get into Waikīkī. With all these inconveniences, one would imagine that as hosts, locals would at least get to enjoy the show, but access is usually restricted to volunteers.


APEC’s mission statement reads, “We are united in our drive to build a dynamic and harmonious Asia-Pacific community by championing free and open trade and investment, promoting and accelerating regional economic integration, encouraging economic and technical cooperation, enhancing human security, and facilitating a favorable and sustainable business environment.” The organization of 21 member economies strives to achieve these goals by utilizing free and open trade and investment within the region. This involves lowering tariffs and other trade barriers that hinder the free market. APEC claims free trade benefits all parties involved, as each party is able to utilize its comparative advantage. APEC also focuses on sustainable growth, with climate change and energy as two of its top priorities.When APEC began in 1989, trade barriers (tariffs, quotas, etc.) increased the cost of trade by 16.9 percent. As of 2004, these barriers had been reduced by 70 percent to 5.5 percent. In addition, from 1989 to 2007, APEC economies have outpaced the rest of the world with an average annual increase in international trade of 8.3 percent, compared with the rest of the world’s 7.6 percent.

While critics are quick to claim that APEC consists solely of big corporations and influential politicians, few are aware of APEC’s involvement with small to medium enterprises. APEC recognizes that the bulk of innovation comes not from major corporations, but from these smaller businesses working to come up with new ideas. According to a media release on APEC’s website, “In many APEC economies, SMEs account for the majority of businesses and employment, and contribute significantly to output.” The same release states, “SMEs are – and will continue to be – a key source of growth for APEC economies.” APEC helps foster the growth of these businesses by promoting things such as intellectual property rights and providing access to financial institutions.

APEC is a non-binding forum; no legally binding agreements or policies are set from these conferences. APEC is a place for discussion, where diverse economies can bring up the important issues facing their economies.


UH’s APEC interns expressed generally positive but diverse views on APEC and their intern experiences. “APEC is a[n] … economic forum that creates different possibilities for the Asia-Pacific region,” wrote Joshua Boney, an economics major, by email. “Through the forum the leaders … are able to discuss concerns for the Asia-Pacific region and their individual economies.”

“Free trade is a prerequisite for economic growth in today’s world, where countries are becoming increasingly more interconnected. Economic growth is vital to lift people out of poverty and increase living standards throughout the world,” wrote Olga Bogach, a Ph.D. candidate in economics.

Others also addressed social aspects of APEC. “I found myself asking questions … about the importance of APEC on women and the indigenous Hawaiian community,” wrote Kathy L. Aldinger, a peace studies and conflict resolution major. “APEC for me means cooperation, coming together to listen and to be heard. Peace begins with that basic premise.”

“For some of the students, [APEC] could mean frustrating traffic for the rest of the week; for others it means a once-in-a-lifetime event that will take place in our home state,” wrote Kelly Sun Young Park, a political science, economics and Spanish student. “Instead of complaining about the traffic and inconveniences, we should think about what a meaningful occasion this is. What other [city] in the U.S. will get an opportunity to showcase its state, nature, people and culture to more than 10,000 people from all over the world in a week?”

Read the Ka Leo version here.


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