Opening Plenary Address at U.S. - ASEAN Business Forum

Robert D. Hormats
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs
Siem Reap, Cambodia
July 13, 2012

Thank you, Myron, for those introductory remarks. And a special thank you to our host, Minister Sun Chanthol, for welcoming all of us to Siem Reap – home to one of the wonders of the world, Angkor Wat.

Siem Reap has served as a center of culture and commerce in this region for nearly 1000 years – so it is highly appropriate that we are assembled here today. This forum is a great opportunity to continue to strengthen the economic and business ties between the United States and ASEAN. And I’m pleased to be joined by Under Secretary of Commerce Sanchez, our Ambassadors from the region, and many other U.S. Government officials, as well as so many of our counterparts from ASEAN member countries. And we will be joined tonight by Secretary Clinton, whose attendance at this forum further underscores the level of importance we ascribe to our economic relationship with ASEAN.

The Secretary has been a great leader on "economic statecraft," as we recognize the growing importance of deepening our engagement on economic and business relationships – with a very high priority being our relationships in Southeast Asia.

The drivers of this effort, though, are those of you from the business community, and I would like to acknowledge the ground-breaking work by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S.-ASEAN Business Council to organize this event. And thanks to all of you from the private sector in the United States and Southeast Asia for responding to the call to be here today.

Many of the finest companies in the world are participating in the forum today, and several of them – Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, DHL, Oracle, Peabody, P&G, ACE, Black & Veatch, Coca-Cola, GE, and Google – are sponsoring this first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum. U.S. economic and commercial ties are driving our relationship with Southeast Asia. And we realize the mutual benefits of strengthening economic cooperation. ASEAN is an economic pillar not only in the East Asian region but increasingly in the global economy as well. And we view the region as a highly important priority for U.S. international economic policy. Just as we developed ever closer economic relationships with Europe in the last century, we want to develop ever closer economic relationships with ASEAN during the early decades of this century. This would be true whether or not ASEAN were strategically located between one very large country to the North and another to its West.

We see ASEAN as important in its own right.

And the ASEAN Regional Forum was the perfect venue for Secretary Clinton to announce the Asia Pacific Strategic Economic Initiative[1], which will support an increased and sustained engagement with our key multilateral partners, including ASEAN.

Today’s forum is a tremendous opportunity for all of us. More specifically, I would like to briefly outline four reasons I am excited to be in Cambodia at this first-ever U.S.-ASEAN Business Forum.

First, when I was growing up, most of what we heard from this part of the world was about war. Now we see development, opportunity, peace, and cooperation emerging throughout the region. I have always been impressed that the people of Southeast Asia are among the most creative, hard working, entrepreneurial, and energetic people on earth. Now the people of ASEAN have the opportunity to demonstrate all these capabilities, working together to build their national economies and a dynamic regional economy.

Second, from an economic growth perspective, no region of the world is more exciting than Southeast Asia. ASEAN is America’s fourth largest trading partner. Its population is approximately 600 million. And the region increasingly is a driver of global growth. The region’s dynamism leaves considerable additional opportunity for expanding and deepening U.S.-ASEAN economic ties. ASEAN’s ambitious economic development and integration goals – along with improving the region’s investment environment – also have the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions of people throughout Southeast Asia, and set a sustainable course for our growing mutual benefit. It is inherently in America’s interest that ASEAN succeed in its ambitious growth and integration objectives. A strong and prosperous ASEAN, with close economic ties to the United States, is a major American policy objective. And we will work as partners with the people, businesses, and governments of this region to make that objective a reality.

And today’s meetings are one small part in our enduring commitment to the region and its institutions. From the U.S. perspective, this forum simultaneously achieves two of President Obama’s top objectives – to strengthen U.S. ties with the ASEAN region and to increase trade flows across the Pacific. These objectives are a high priority for Secretary Clinton and our team at the State Department. And, very importantly, they are a high priority for our Ambassadors and Embassies. I work with them all very closely, and their energy, dedication, and commitment is one of America’s greatest assets – as well as one of our business community’s greatest assets.

Third, today’s forum is focused on our shared "Commitment to Connectivity."

The ASEAN Connectivity Initiative provides powerful opportunities for people and businesses to contribute towards building ASEAN's potential. We will hear today about opportunities to collaborate in the areas of energy, infrastructure, transportation, information technology, and financial services among other sectors. It is inspiring to see the efforts ASEAN countries are making to develop in these areas in order to meet the current and future needs of the people of the region, including access to markets and increased and inclusive economic growth for all of the people of this region.

The U.S. Government wants to play a positive role in the Connectivity effort. For example, working with ASEAN country partners, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency is supporting activities such as reverse trade missions, technical assistance and workshops that foster new partnerships between the private sector and government entities to increase connectivity, and investment in priority sectors.

USTDA held a successful Disaster Management workshop in Thailand a few weeks ago. It will hold a Power Transmission Workshop in Vietnam later this year. And as the United States cooperates with ASEAN to improve connectivity and lower barriers, we also need to cooperate to ensure that enhanced economic integration does not degrade the environment. Water, forests, arable land, and a clean environment are essential for sustainable growth. And I am confident we will be able to do so through support for such efforts as the environmental pillar of the Lower Mekong Initiative. One particular concern I have is about cooperation to address the very serious issue of trafficking in endangered wildlife.

With respect to the ASEAN Connectivity Initiative, I also want to underscore that American businesses are "committed to connectivity."

Whenever I meet with U.S. companies in Washington, or engage them in my travels to the region, I repeatedly hear of their strong interest in partnering with ASEAN member countries to invest in energy, infrastructure, and transportation, etc. And that brings me to my fourth and final point this morning – that there is tremendous potential to build stronger ties between U.S. businesses and ASEAN governments and companies – and dramatically strengthen people-to-people ties. On Tuesday, I attended an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fulbright Scholarship program in Vietnam and saw for myself how many of the of this generation’s future government and business leaders have benefited from this extraordinary program.

We need even more interest and opportunity for the people of ASEAN countries and the United States to meet and exchange views. I know building these relationships is a core objective for our Department of Commerce, and you’ll hear from Under Secretary Sanchez in greater detail in a moment.

But let me just say that in an era of growth and opportunity in Southeast Asia, it is worth pointing out that American companies "make good partners." American companies sell innovative, high-quality goods and services that are highly valued. And whether working at home or abroad, U.S. firms engage with local communities and civil society, recognize the importance of broader social and environmental responsibility, and create economic opportunities and upward mobility for employees through on-the-job training and ongoing workforce development.

The diversity of American society at home, and of the American workforce, makes us value ever more the different cultures, ethnic groups, ideas, and points of view of people in this area and around the world. In short, the most successful U.S. companies do well by doing good. They practice corporate social responsibility. And I know we will have many opportunities today to explore ways that U.S. companies "do well by doing good" here in Southeast Asia.

Through the continued collaboration of our people, our private sectors, and our governments, I am confident we will be able to build a stronger U.S.-ASEAN relationship in the future. I look forward to hearing from all of the participants today. And I hope this forum will be the first of many such exchanges.

Thanks very much.

1 . Asia-Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative