This past week, officials from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative’s 21 member nations met in Honolulu to discuss a range of policy issues affecting the Asia-Pacific region.  One development coming out of the meeting was the adoption by APEC of the Honolulu Declaration, which includes an endorsement of a self-regulatory, cross-border privacy program to promote what the Declaration calls a “seamless regional economy.”

The Honolulu commitment, which aims to “reduce barriers to information flows, enhance consumer privacy, and promote interoperability across regional data privacy regimes,” has been welcomed by companies that do business internationally, many of which have expressed concern about the extent to which conflicting national privacy regulations can interfere with the ability to conduct business across national borders.

Here in the U.S., FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez issued a statement applauding the development as holding promise to “bridge the gaps between different legal systems and privacy regimes.”  Beyond the Asia-Pacific region itself, the FTC’s and the Administration’s decision to embrace cross-border privacy regimes is seen by many as an indication that the United States Government is committed to working collaboratively on the international stage to facilitate interoperability between national privacy regulation and promote international business activity, concepts that we expect to see in the final privacy reports that the FTC and the Department of Commerce will soon release.

Companies that participate in the new APEC Cross Border Privacy Rules System will participate in an independent review and certification of their privacy practices and will submit to a voluntary enforcement scheme.  Though the APEC program will not be implemented for at least a year, we expect that U.S. companies doing business in the Asia-Pacific region will continue to follow these developments with interest.