Washington — Strengthening economic ties between the United States and Southeast Asia generates benefits for both sides and is a major priority for the Obama administration, according to Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sánchez.
He said enhancing regional business, trade and investment relations is a “win-win partnership” in remarks to the inaugural U.S.–Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Business Forum July 13 in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
For American businesses, Southeast Asia “represents more markets to explore, more customers to reach and more opportunities to provide products and services,” Sánchez said.
In turn, he said, U.S. products and services “will continue to contribute to the ASEAN region’s dynamic economic development.”
Trade between the United States and ASEAN member economies has increased significantly in recent years. In 2011, U.S. exports to Southeast Asia exceeded $76 billion — progress the under secretary said is promoting economies on both sides of the ocean.
“It’s important that we keep this momentum going,” Sánchez said. “That’s what today is all about — removing the obstacles that prevent a richer trade and investment relationship and helping each other make the most of the opportunities before us.”
He said the forum’s agenda covered a wide range of topics, including improving supply-chain efficiency, building growth industries like renewable energy, and creating a more attractive business environment through increased transparency and information sharing.
In particular, Sánchez said, talks were set to focus on infrastructure development. The U.S. Commerce Department is scheduled to lead a infrastructure-focused trade mission to Indonesia and Vietnam later in 2012.
“We want to do more than just build roads and bridges,” he said. “We want to build new opportunities across the region.”
He said the business forum is an important part of the effort to build a better future for all ASEAN members.
“By talking together, we can better work together, and grow together, and prosper together,” Sánchez said.
President Obama and his administration have made increasing U.S. engagement with the Asia-Pacific region an important priority in recent years.
“We did so because we share a deep and rich history together, and want to build on this history to ensure our futures are even brighter,” Sánchez said.
The under secretary was joined on the trip by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who led the delegation, and by Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats. They joined representatives from all ASEAN members, as well as business leaders with a presence in the region.
ASEAN was established in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand to promote regional growth and development, and the group has since been joined by Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Cambodia.
The business forum directly followed the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Clinton delivered remarks pledging the United States’ continued investment in Southeast Asia.