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Home Articles & Speeches Opening Plenary Session - 33rd PBEC International General Meeting
Opening Plenary Session - 33rd PBEC International General Meeting
33rd PBEC International General Meeting
Honolulu, Hawaii
May 20, 2000

Excellencies, PBEC members and chairmen, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Honolulu, Hawaii for the 33rd International General Meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council.

It is a very special pleasure for me to welcome you to these wonderful islands - a place that the PBEC International Secretariat is proud to call home. I don't think we could have selected a better place to hold our fist meeting of the new millennium.

These unique islands are not only geographically at the heart of our Asia Pacific community, they also represent a cultural and linguistic common ground for the entire region.

Where else but Hawaii can we fine such a beautiful blend of Asian, Pacific Island, and western cultures and languages?

It is not an exaggeration to say that no matter where you traveled from to come to Hawaii, you will feel at home here.

So, on behalf of the entire state of Hawaii, let me say: ALOOOOOOHA!

The world we gather in for this year's IGM is much changed from that of our last year's meeting in Hong Kong. Our principle concern at that time was in assessing the budding economic recovery in the region as it slowly began to bloom. The principle question we dealt with was whether the budding economic recovery would suffer a relapse or otherwise become derailed.

Almost one year later, economic recovery in the region continues to make steady progress. We'll hear much more on this subject a bit later on this morning from several of the region's foremost economists.

And while we are all pleased that the concerns on the regional economy at least thus far appear unfounded, a new and perhaps equally vexing challenge has appeared on the horizon.

Today, questions about the impact of globalization are being raised with increased urgency, threatening to undermine the broad based consensus in support of multilateral trade and investment liberalization, which PBEC has worked so hard to support and encourage.

When we selected our conference theme, "New Horizons: Economic and Political Implications of the Changing Global Landscape", we could never predicted how truly topical it would be.

We all observed the unfortunate events that unfolded on the fringes of the Seattle WTO Ministerial with great consternation. The failure to successfully launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations was both a surprise and a disappointment.

One thing is clear. The turmoil at the WTO Ministerial graphically illustrated the need for the international business community to become more proactive in articulating the benefits of globalization and free trade.

So much of the information propagated by the opponents of the WTO reflects a fundamental misunderstanding about the realities of globalization, the role and function of the WTO, and the manner in which international corporations conduct themselves.

PBEC's role as the independent voice of business in the Pacific has therefore never been more crucial. Now more than ever, business needs to speak out with a loud and clear voice on the tremendous benefits globalization brings to all segments of society.

Trade benefits everyone, not just large multinational corporations. Expanded trade raises real income by reducing the cost of living through access to less expensive imported items. Trade policies impact - either positively or negatively - the price we pay for almost everything we buy, from food and clothes to computers and homes. This is especially true for those of us who live here in Hawaii, where so much of what is consumed in these islands is produced elsewhere.

Trade has been a primary engine driving world economic growth, the creation of better jobs, and rising per capita incomes throughout the world. This economic growth has generated more resources for improved health care, education and social spending - in short, a better life for all citizens.

PBEC can justifiably take some measure of satisfaction for having a long history of exemplary corporate citizenship. One need only take a glance at our IGM agenda to see the commitment PBEC has made to issues such as the environment and corporate responsibility.

PBEC has always believed that business leaders have an obligation which extends beyond the bottom-line. CEOs and other executives are not just corporate leaders, but also community leaders. They are responsible not merely for the bottom line but for the betterment of the larger community.

Our IGM session this Wednesday on corporate responsibility will allow several leading corporate executives to share their views and their companies accomplishments in areas such as the environment, philanthropy, and education.

Also on Wednesday, we will present the 2nd annual PBEC Environmental Award, designed to recognize and celebrate a PBEC member company which has demonstrated outstanding leadership in environmental stewardship.

The outstanding caliber of this year's applicants is a testament to the importance PBEC member companies attached to protecting and promoting our delicate eco-system.

I am pleased to report that our weekend deliberations have been extremely fruitful. PBEC's various working committees have continued their good work and active agendas in areas such as electronic commerce, food products, transparency, the environment, foreign direct investment, services, and technology.

Just yesterday, our board of directors passed a number of important policy statements which further solidify PBEC's role as the independent voice of business in the Pacific.

In our "Statement on Seattle WTO Outcome" PBEC reiterated how the entire region has benefited greatly from expansion of world trade in recent decades through broad-based improvements in living standards. PBEC called upon the member economies of the WTO to redouble their efforts towards the initiation of a new multilateral round of trade negotiations.

PBEC also passed a statement on food, agriculture and biotechnology which recognized that with growing populations and limited resources, it is critical for the Asia-Pacific region to find more efficient ways to feed its people. In PBEC's view, it is in the public interest that all relevant parties join in a constructive debate to create an agreed framework for the rational, scientific assessment of new, innovative biotechnologies.

We also passed a statement on E-Commerce which outlined the strong role PBEC is prepared to play in advising government on improving the environment for e-commerce in the region.

PBEC believes that the role of information technology in business and in communities will grow exponentially and that increasingly, governments and their advisors will need to look to the private sector for guidance on key areas of focus.

PBEC also views electronic commerce as the critical tool developing countries will use to join the ranks of the developed world, and PBEC stands ready to facilitate access to these new technologies throughout the region.

I don't want you to get the impression that our weekend was all work, however. Social and recreational activities are an entrenched part of the PBEC tradition, and help build the sense of family which is so strong within PBEC. We also enjoyed perhaps the finest golf tournament in PBEC's history.

I encourage all of our delegates to try to find a bit of time during their stay to sample a bit of all the wonderful things that Hawaii has to offer, and to also mix and mingle with our local business leaders. You can truly do serious business in paradise!

Thank you very much, and once again welcome to the millennium International General Meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. I wish you a wonderful and productive meeting.