SECRETARY CLINTON: (In progress.) It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council Forum: Commitment to Connectivity. And we are so honored to have three distinguished leaders here with us tonight. You will be hearing from each of them about the importance of advancing the ASEAN connectivity agenda and steps we can all take in government and in business, in ASEAN and in our individual countries to advance integration and economic engagement.
I’m very grateful to Prime Minister Hun Sen for hosting us and being with us. Cambodia has just completed the ASEAN ministerial, and we are grateful that you would find the time to come here and be with us, Prime Minister.
I also want to thank President Thein Sein, who has moved his country such a long distance in such a short period of time. And we are very much looking forward to hearing your comments. And Prime Minister Yingluck, it is always a pleasure to be with you and to work with you. Thailand is our oldest ally in the region, one of our oldest allies in the world, and we are honored that you are here.
I want to thank the ministers and ambassadors from across ASEAN who have joined us here in this historic city. And I especially want to thank Myron Brilliant from the Chamber of Commerce and Alex Feldman from the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.
And finally, a very warm welcome to all the representatives from the private sector. Here tonight are dozens of leaders of ASEAN companies from all over the ASEAN region, in addition to dozens of leaders from American companies. By our count, this is the largest U.S.-ASEAN business event ever assembled. And I assume that will be a challenge so that the next events will be even bigger as we see the results of our efforts.
As Myron said, you know that we are certainly elevating our engagement across the board with Asia, and we’re paying particular attention to ASEAN and Southeast Asia. We’re pursuing a economic statecraft and jobs diplomacy agenda to promote sustainable growth and prosperity across the region and, of course, we know that by doing so it will help the countries of ASEAN, but it will also help the United States.
Our economic ties are already strong. ASEAN and the United States are large trading partners. Last year, U.S. exports to ASEAN exceeded $76 billion, and that was up 42 percent since 2009. We have more than twice as much investment in ASEAN as we do in China. So there is a great deal of potential for continuing to grow our economic activity.
We want to do more to deepen our economic partnership. For example, with our ASEAN Single Window and other ADVANCE programs, we are working with ASEAN to develop a fully integrated market by harmonizing customs and improving regulatory standards. And later this fall, our trade ministers will gather here in Siem Reap to discuss ways to advance our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, the operating system of our economic partnership.
I’m also very convinced that by promoting economic activity in the region, it is not only about encouraging businesses to invest and trade, it is also about building relationships. And the best way to do that is to be sure that we promote a rules-based system, because the difference between a region on the path to sustainable growth and one whose gains will be more short term are the norms and the standards for intellectual property protection, for predictability in setting rules, and enforcing laws to try to ensure a level playing field for everyone.
And we want ASEAN and the Asia Pacific to be open for business to everyone willing to work hard and make those investments. And we want especially to encourage entrepreneurs, because after all, that’s where the new ideas come from; that’s where the new businesses start; that’s where small and medium-sized enterprises really get their impetus for growth.
I gave a speech in Hong Kong last July describing what we hoped will be a thriving economic system across the Asia Pacific. It came down to four key attributes: openness, freedom, transparency, and fairness. And we believe that those all go together.
So let us work and try to determine the best way to increase that connectivity, increase those relationships, make those investments, and really build sustainable economies, jobs here, jobs back home in the United States, and the kind of future that we want in the 21st century for the people of the ASEAN nations.
Let me just set the stage for all three speakers. We will hear first from the Prime Minister of Cambodia. Cambodia has achieved tremendous economic progress during the tenure of Prime Hun Sen, and the United States is proud of our economic partnership. The United States is the number one importer of Cambodian-made garments – and this is a shameless plug, but I will say it anyway – thanks to trade deals we did back in the 1990s. (Laughter.) And those trade deals included labor and workplace standards, so the now 350,000 Cambodians, 90 percent of whom are young women, working in the textile industry in Cambodia have seen tremendous advances. Now, Cambodia will see the first to say they have more to do and they are working on that, but we want to continue to support their economic progress.
We also want to point to one other example of an innovative partnership with American business – General Electric is finalizing a rice-husk biomass integrated power project, the first in the region. What a great idea for ASEAN countries, particularly in the Lower Mekong, to use rice husks to generate energy. So this has got great potential.
We’ll next hear from the Prime Minister of Thailand, whose leadership has helped her country recover from the effects of the devastating floods last year and achieve economic growth at the start of this year. We are working to link Thai and American businesses through several public-private partnerships: Google is helping to connect more than 100,000 small and medium-sized businesses throughout Thailand; MasterCard is working with the Bank of Thailand to promote electronic mobile banking training; and Coca-Cola is creating an upcoming women’s entrepreneurship fund. So we’re very pleased that Prime Minister Yingluck could join us.
And finally, we will hear from President Thein Sein. This week has been a milestone in the relationship between our two countries. Just two days ago, President Obama announced that the United States is easing restrictions to allow more U.S. companies to do business there. And a few months ago in Washington, I urged American businesses to invest and to do it responsibly. Under Secretary Bob Hormats, who is here today, will be taking the largest U.S. business delegation – over 70 businesses – tomorrow to meet with officials, to meet with businesses, to meet with civil society. And we’re excited by what lies ahead, and we’re very supportive of President Thein Sein’s economic and political reforms.
And finally, I want to thank everyone from the private sector and the organizations involved and ASEAN and my team at the State Department, led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, for understanding that connectivity is a word that has to have meaning. And much of that meaning comes from greater relationships between our governments, between our private sectors, between our civil societies, and most importantly, between and among our people.
So it’s very exciting to see everything that is happening here. And now it is my pleasure to introduce our host this evening, Prime Minister Hun Sen. (Applause.)