The APEC hook: Hawaii bites (Part 3)

The following story is the third of a three-part series examining the impact of APEC on Hawaii and the Pacific region. The author, Arnie Saiki, is a researcher and the project director for Statehood Hawaii/ImiPono Projects, an independent and nonprofit website promoting open public dialogue on the issue of Hawaii’s statehood.

To read “The APEC hook: When the shark guards the tuna (Part 1),” click here

To read “The APEC hook: Small fish in a big ocean (Part 2),” click here

HONOLULU—As the waves of dignitaries, the press, and some of the world’s most influential business minds approach Honolulu for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November, our State’s leaders are looking to break down barriers to ensure a better deal.

Hawaii is competing for many of the same regional investment capital as the other Pacific Islands. The islands have served as a critical political and geographic hub for the occupying United States. And at APEC, the focus will be on the Pacific’s resources. International investment is focused on mining resources, fisheries, bio-fuel, and government procurement—military contracts.

Federal laws provide the State of Hawaii some protections, but that generally also means that it is more restrictive to do business. In order for Hawaii to make itself a better investment, a certain amount of deregulation and liberalization needs to occur.

The State has already laid some of the groundwork needed for this deregulation. In the beginning of July of this year, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Act 55, the Public Land Optimization Plan (PLOP) into law, which created a for-profit arm of the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), a public-funded State agency. Called the Public Land Development Corporation, that for-profit arm is tasked with managing public/private investment of Hawaii’s public lands, including the disputed “ceded” crown lands.

The Public Land Development Corporation consists of five government appointees, each directing the commercial development of Hawaii’s public lands. Appointees include the head of the Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), the head of the Department of Budget and Finance, as well as two business/finance appointments from the State House and Senate each. Now the rules of this corporation have not yet been defined, but there are no administrators of this corporation representing Native Hawaiians, the environment, or the public health, education sectors.

Signed into law about the same time were a potpourri of other feel-good measures that by themselves and and at face-value seemed like good policy for small local farmers or mom and pop entrepreneurs. But applied to transnational regional development, these laws will likely create hugely disproportionate barriers for families to carve out a niche for the dream of owning a local small business.

Some of these measures include:

Act 207 allows for DLNR to modify State land leases to 65 years.

Act 219 allows the extension of State land leases for hotels and resorts planning “substantial improvements” to 55 years.

Act 208 makes entering unused agricultural lands without permission an offense of criminal trespass in the second degree and limits liability to lease holders for trespassers sustaining injuries.

Act 232 extends commercial aquaculture leases for aquaculture projects from 35 to 65 years. 

Act 054, in particular, requires that DLNR inventory all public land trusts, including “ceded” lands, inventory all land titles, and submit a description of all natural resources, including minerals and water found on or appurtenant (“passing though”) each parcel. The collected information would then be submitted into a database. On the face of it, the inventory of resources sounds reasonable. However, when you consider that inventories are the accounting of assets, it would allow for an entity like the Public Land Development Corporation to change the purpose of the inventory from passively indexing resources to creating an asset base. The Public Land Development Corporation could use that base as equity—key stakeholder assets required for leasing public land.

These deregulations could actually further remove us from the food/water/housing security that we are led to think these measures provide.

Again, bills that deregulate liabilities are wonderful if they pertain only to local farmers or families. However, applied to transnational agri/aquacultural, mining, or energy investors, these new deregulations are Trojan horses used to create huge investment opportunities that could ultimately make it very difficult for local labor and production to compete. These deregulations could actually further remove us from the food/water/housing security that we are led to think these measures provide.

Had these measures been passed any other time, they may have well slipped beneath anyone’s notice. But so soon to the APEC forum, it suggests that the Hawaii State and business community is creating as many opportunities for itself as it can in this transnational market.

As a matter of policy, the U.S. government is based on an open-investment regime where the government regulates foreign investment as little as possible, except on sectors where national security is involved. In a sub-federal state level, there are sector specific laws and policies that bind investment and development.

In Hawaii, DLNR was the State agency that managed and protected the sale and leasing of these public ‘ceded’ lands. Now, however, there are conditions under national security where the federal government can obtain access and lease control to foreign citizens or corporations that offer investors a stable and non-discriminatory policy.

As the definition of national security encompasses the economic, energy, and the environment sectors—the kind 
of public/private partnerships that the Public Land Development Corporation will likely be involved with—
new developments will likely be framed through over-reaching definitions of national security. Economic security, energy security, and environmental 
security all fall under the banner of national security and are all the commodity resources that DLNR is working to inventory.

What this cautionary account suggests—particularly during these international one percent vs. 99 percent Occupy Wall Street events—is that these seismic and over-reaching changes are well underway. They are not manifestly engraved in stone as the images of Wakea, Papa, and Haloa, but they are nonetheless binding in international law.

These International Investment Agreements are moving quickly as the “one percent” are exploring every route towards proving that this neo-liberal economic system is thriving and alive. The “99 percent” know that it is hanging on by life-support. If we concede to have our oceans and land resources stripped without us at least voicing an opinion, then that one percent may very well celebrate that they were right after all. And that as surely as day becomes night, the resource and labor consuming short-term benefits of neo-liberalism may appear like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster—alive and well.


Moana Nui

A partnership organized by the International Forum on Globalization (San Francisco) and Pua Mohala I Ka Pō (Honolulu) comprised of practitioners, academics, advocates, and activists are exploring alternatives to economic hegemony, militarization and the damaging effects of globalization on indigenous peoples, resources, and trade. That exploration culminates at an event called Moana Nui, taking place in November at three venues: Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church (free private event on November 9), Church of the Crossroads (free public event on November 10), and the Kamaka’kuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies (free public event on November 11).

For more information, visit