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Politics & Policy

Here comes APEC: What the international conference means for San Francisco

What exactly is APEC, and why is San Francisco hosting part of it this year? KQED journalist and APEC Host Committee Press Ambassador Priya David Clemens explains.

Ready or not, San Francisco is playing host to a major spectacle this fall. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, an annual event held by an intergovernmental forum of 21 economies in the Pacific Rim, comes to the city Nov. 12—and even San Franciscans with little interest in what transpires during the summit are going to feel its presence. 

APEC’s main mission is to promote free trade throughout the Asia Pacific region, and it actually hosts several meetings in a given host nation throughout the year. This year, the United States is the host, and San Francisco is the setting for APEC’s final and largest meetings at the Economic Leaders’ Week held Nov. 11-17. 

These include several meetings of heads of state and economic and trade ministers from the 21 member economies and the CEO Summit Nov. 14-16, which will attract hundreds of CEOs and other business leaders. In the background will be bilateral meetings that can lead to consequential decisions on trade and commerce.

Expected visitors include President Joe Biden, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, Peruvian President Dina Boluarte and other heads of state. U.S. Vice President (and former San Francisco District Attorney) Kamala Harris is this year's chair. 

Despite Russia being a member, President Vladimir Putin is a sure no-show, given most members’ stance on the war in Ukraine. Whether Chinese leader Xi Jinping will attend is one of the larger open questions of the event. 

That means much of San Francisco’s South of Market area will be wrapped in a ring of steel mid-November. Moscone Center, the main site for the conference, will have a security perimeter; transit lines will be rerouted and some streets closed. 

APEC’s ministerial meetings in Seattle in August were met with protests, and the movements behind those protests are determined to follow the conference to San Francisco, with local groups looking to help fill their ranks. The Bay Area chapter of climate policy protest group Extinction Rebellion appears to already be on board. 

So depending on how you think about such things, APEC may provide San Francisco with either a lot of excitement or inconvenience come mid-November. But what do locals who aren’t politically wired get out of it? 

Many local business leaders are hoping that APEC’s coattails could bring in new investments to the San Francisco Bay Area. For example, at a May APEC Transportation Ministerial Meeting in Detroit, leaders from Michigan and Taiwan signed an agreement to partner on manufacturing electric vehicles.

Other possible benefits may be less tangible, but provide equal incentives, as the international conference restores San Francisco, where the United Nations Charter was signed 78 years ago, to what many see as its deserved place in the global spotlight. 

To that end, the local host committee has raised $20 million in funds to pay for security, transportation, receptions and other external support.  Additionally, a range of public and semi-public events around the conference are being held by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, GlobalSF and other groups.