Senior officials from 21 countries are meeting in Hawaii this week for the annual summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum - APEC. Thursday and Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will meet with their counterparts. And, on Sunday, President Obama will host a meeting of APEC leaders. Protesters who object to the meeting's open trade agenda are also preparing to get their message out.
A White House official said Wednesday that this APEC meeting is all about jobs. In 2010, APEC nations, which include Canada, Russia, China and Japan, purchased 60 percent of U.S. exports. The official says those exports supported four million American jobs.
The U.S. delegation hopes to reduce trade barriers, especially for sustainable energy products and services. The United States also hopes to announce the framework for a nine-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, a group that includes Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile and several other countries. US officials see the partnership as the basis for a future free trade zone that spans the Pacific.
Secretary Clinton is expected to talk about the renewed U.S. focus on the Asia Pacific region in remarks at the East-West Center, Thursday. One of the center's analysts, political scientist Christopher McNally, says the APEC forum is a place for strengthening ties and sharing ideas.
"APEC is an organization that is driven by consensus. It is an organization that is very much collaborative and consultative," he said.
He says that means the important initiatives at APEC are often nation-to-nation. President Obama will hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the summit.
Corporate executives are also sharing their concerns with trade officials from the region.
Outside of meeting venues, protesters opposed to globalization are planning demonstrations for the weekend.
The size of the rallies may be limited by Hawaii's isolation, but Liz Rees of the group World Can't Wait says the effort has momentum and that it draws on the same anger about social inequities as the Occupy Wall Street movement. She charges that free trade hurts developing countries and poor people.
“It's just a way for richer, more powerful governments and countries, like the U.S., with corporations to go in under the guise of free trade and rip these countries off by whatever means they see fit,” says Rees.
APEC has recognized the differences between industrialized and developing nations and said the major economies should be expected to open their economies to trade and foreign investment before their less developed neighbors.
In the closed-door meetings, however, nations at all stages of development are wrestling with similar questions, such as when and whether to remove tariffs protecting favored industries.