Americas Columns

ALFRED GABOT: Leaders of Asia Pacific ‘invading’ San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO – People are agog over the hosting by San Francisco this November of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit and related economic, business and other conferences.

This comes as no surprise as I saw with my own eyes in 1993 how Seattle in Washington responded and later benefitted from the first successful hosting by the United States of the first ever APEC Leaders’ summit in the city and at the Blake Island after its founding in 1989.

As a journalist, I joined then Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos in that event marked by his first meeting with then US President Bill Clinton which I recorded with my old cellphone. I also had rare interactions with other APEC leaders like then South Korean President Kim Young Sam who I met at the Blue House later, Singapore Prime Minister Go Chok Tong who I interviewed at the Istana eventually, Thailand Prime Minister Chuan Likphal who entertained us Filipino and Confederation of ASEAN Journalists in Bangkok later and Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at the Four Seasons.

Since Vice President Kamala Harris and APEC announced in Bangkok, Thailand November last year that San Francisco and the United States will host the conference, officials in government, business and other sectors like California Governor Gavin Newsom have since gone into frenetic preparations for the major global event by countries which account for almost half of the world trade and 62 percent of US goods.

After learning the good news, San Francisco Mayor London Breed celebrated as the event would draw to the city US President Joe Biden, the leaders, ministers and business CEOs of 21 member countries like Canada, Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Peru, and Chile at the southernmost tip of Americas, all connected by the vast Pacific Ocean. As of this writing, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had confirmed he will be attending APEC 2023, his second after the Bangkok edition last year.


Slated at the Moscone Center starting on the 12th of November, the APEC Summit actually is expected to draw thousands of attendees from around the world and San Francisco, the city and county, could benefit from an estimated $36.5 million in estimated total economic impact, among others.

According to reports, it was Mayor Breed who first broach the idea of the city and county hosting the vital APEC meetings, citing in her letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken San Francisco’s extensive economic, cultural and academic connections to the vast Asia-Pacific Region, including the City’s recognition as the gateway to the Asia Pacific, making it a primary destination for foreign direct investment from the region.

Reports from the San Francisco Customs District, for one, recorded $100 billion from two-way shipping with APEC countries. Moreover, Northern California companies reportedly sell $60 billion goods and services to APEC buyers each year.

Readily, then Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senators Dianne Feinstein (also a former San Francisco mayor) and Alex Padilla supported San Francisco’s bid. Governor Gavin Newsom, another former mayor of San Francisco, also joined the chorus of support for the milestone event.

APEC officials will actually meet almost throughout the year in the United States. The APEC Secretariat reported that the first meeting of Senior Officials was held in Palm Springs last February 14 to 28. In May, they will meet again in Detroit, Michigan for the Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting and other related meetings, including a gathering of transportation ministers that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will host and a trade ministers meeting to be hosted by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. Their final preparatory meetings will be staged in Seattle in August and September highlighted by six  ministerial meetings which will look at ways to enhance cooperation and opportunities among member countries in areas such as women in the economy, small and medium enterprises, energy, health, food security, climate resilience and more.

Finaly, the political leaders of each member economy will come together in November for the annual APEC Leaders Summit and Economic Leaders’ Week  gatherings where the leaders of some of the world’s largest companies will also meet at the APEC CEO Summit.

The APEC 2023 conference has for its theme “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All,” Organizers said it will align with the Putrajaya Vision’s three drivers of inclusive growth: trade and investment, innovation and digitalization; and strong, balanced, secure, sustainable, and inclusive growth – and will help us move towards implementation of the Aotearoa Plan of Action and the Bangkok goals.

U.S. officials had identified its priorities for APEC 2023. In a briefing in Washington D.C., U.S. Senior Official for APEC Matt Murray said the conference theme underscores the United States’ enduring commitment to broad-based economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Their three priorities are  interconnected, innovative, and inclusive. Thus, the first priority is building a resilient and interconnected region that advances broadbased economic prosperity, said Murray.

“We believe that creating new connections and strengthening existing ties across the APEC region is at the heart of the sustained economic recovery that we all need and will be critical for future growth and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region,” he said.  “As the host of APEC 2023, the United States will build upon Thailand’s work by prioritizing the renewal of cross-border ties for sustainable and responsible travel and commerce, while building new digital and physical connections to spur economic growth.

The second priority is innovative, enabling an innovative environment for a sustainable future, Murray said. “We look forward here to building on the momentum of the Bangkok goals in our host year by continuing to work with APEC economies toward a sustainable future in an innovative manner.  We will further address the climate crisis, promote environmental sustainability, reduce disaster and disease risk, improve emergency response, promote the digital economy and enhance digitalization, and foster an enabling business environment, including through undertaking structural reform while advancing women in STEM throughout all these efforts. “

Murray said APEC will lead work on green recovery and green growth, climate finance, clean energy, food security and agricultural biotechnology, food safety, and combatting marine debris. Additionally, APEC will promote enabling business environments through structural reform, good regulatory practices, competition policy, standards alignment, and anticorruption efforts.  And APEC will continue to lead on digital connectivity through ICT infrastructure development, opennetwork architecture for ICT networks, and advances in international standards and best practices in the digital economy.

Its third priority is inclusive, affirming an equitable and inclusive future for all, which recognizes that in order to achieve sustained economic growth, we must work to ensure that all segments of our societies are able to participate in and benefit from an increasingly connected and globalized economy, according to Murray, adding APEC economies should work towards inclusive growth for workers and those with untapped economic potential, including women, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and underserved and under-represented communities.

“APEC will seek to incorporate gender into discussions of the importance of equity and inclusion in agriculture, customs, e-commerce, structural reform, transportation, trade, the future of work, and health as drivers for growth.  APEC will continue to promote workforce development and education, elevate worker voices across the APEC agenda, and support underserved communities through making choices in trade policy which value inclusivity.  By unblocking the potential for prosperity for underserved and marginalized people, APEC can facilitate equitable and accelerated economic growth,” Murray added.

Murray concluded: “Across all these priorities, we have a strong desire to work together with key stakeholders in the private sector and in civil society to help us reach these goals and ensure that 2023 is a successful and memorable host year for the United States and for our APEC partners.  Robust participation by stakeholders provides an enormous opportunity for all of us to share ideas and insights, develop innovative solutions to many of the challenges facing our economies, and promote the concepts of resilience, sustainability, and inclusion, which helps drive economic growth across our region. “

Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association, was reported to be ecstatic about the city’s hosting of APEC 2023 along with other leaders. “This is a big win for San Francisco,” he said, adding “APEC will bring global attention to the city, as well as thousands of international visitors that will help support our economic recovery and the hundreds of small businesses that depend on visitor dollars.”

For sure, many of those attending the events or coming in as tourists taking advantage of the big meetings, will bid adieu to the city later with Frank Sinatra’s song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” reverberating in their minds. (Alfred Gabot/