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In a long-awaited move, Japan plans to introduce the APEC Business Travel Card program early next year to facilitate visa-free travel for business people from Japan and other APEC member economies, government sources said Thursday.

The sources said the government will make a formal decision on introducing the ABTC scheme before an annual summit of top leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which is scheduled for October in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Japan’s introduction of ABTCs will bring to 13 the number of APEC member economies participating in the unique travel pass scheme, which aims to improve the mobility of business people within the Pacific Rim to facilitate trade, investment and other economic relations.

The 12 other APEC member economies that have already introduced the ABTC scheme are Australia, Chile, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Thailand, Peru, Brunei and Taiwan — in order of their joining.

The ABTC scheme offers accredited business travelers visa-free travel and expedited airport processing when visiting participating member economies.

The sources said that before making a formal decision by this autumn to introduce the ABTC scheme, Japan will have to work out such details as an issuer of the ABTCs and the specific timing for introducing the scheme.

Of the APEC member economies already participating, some are issuing ABTCs through their governments and others are doing so through credible private-sector organizations.

As for the timing of the ABTC scheme’s introduction, January 1 or April 1 are the most likely dates, the sources said.

No domestic legislative change will be necessary to introduce the ABTC scheme, the sources said.

Although Japan has yet to join the scheme, it has gradually eased requirements for issuance of multiple-entry visas for business people visiting the country from the other APEC member economies for a stay of up to 90 days since it hosted an APEC summit in Osaka in the autumn of 1995.

In January 1998, Japan also extended the validity of such visas to five years from the previous three years.

In the latest easing of multiple-visa issuance requirements for APEC business people, which became effective Feb. 15, Japan further expanded the scope of APEC business people eligible for such visas.

As a result, any APEC business people who either currently hold managerial posts or have worked on a full-time basis at a single company for more than three years can apply for Japanese APEC business multiple-entry visas.

Previously, the issuance of such visas was limited to APEC business people who hold full-time board director or higher positions or those who had held managerial posts for more than three years at a single company.

The 21 APEC member economies are the United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam and Russia.

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