MODERATOR:  Greetings from the Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub.  I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez.  The Under Secretary will discuss his trip to Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, as well as efforts to deepen economic cooperation and enhance the region’s economic resilience. 

With that, let’s get started.  Under Secretary Fernandez, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks. 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you.  Thank you and good morning, everyone.  Thank you for taking the time to be with me this morning.  Today, actually, I am concluding 10 days of travel in the Indo-Pacific.  I – we’ve had productive meetings with a number of government, business, and academic leaders in Vietnam, in the Philippines, and here in the Republic of Korea.  And in all of these countries we have discussed ways to strengthen our economic cooperation in this very critical and important region, and I’d like – let me just highlight a couple of the key outcomes of our meetings. 

In Vietnam I focused on increasing trade opportunities, the clean energy transition, semiconductor and supply chain cooperation, and also advancing our economic partnership following the President – President Biden’s visit in September last year.   

In the Philippines we assured our partners of our unwavering support for the Philippines’ economic resilience and supply chain diversification, and we also focused on expanding our already strong trade relations and investment opportunities in many areas.  And one new area that we spent some time on is on critical minerals. 

Here in the Republic of Korea I have one more day, or actually one more afternoon, and I – yesterday I led the Senior Economic Dialogue, which is really a good-news story.  It demonstrates – demonstrated our strong bilateral trade and investment relationship that we have with the ROK, and we talked about critical minerals, semiconductor supply chains, energy security, development, and infrastructure cooperation.  And I think I am very pleased to see that here in Korea, how much the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act have really grabbed the attention of companies here in Korea, and also to see how our companies – American companies – are investing here and are doing business here.  

In all of my meetings, in all of these meetings over the last 10 days and particularly during my private sector engagements and in every – at every stop of – I have met with companies, U.S. companies and local companies.  In all these places I have emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships.  We’ve engaged companies that are investing in the energy transition, that are investing in consumer industries, some companies that have been in this region over a hundred years.  And that’s something that we should not underestimate: the importance of the fact of our history in this part of the world, the fact that our companies are – have become local companies in many of these countries, and they’ve established partnerships and relations that help them but also that establish our interest and our desire to be partners and neighbors.  

The private sector is critical for creating sustainable – and prosperity, and not only for everyone in the region but actually outside – outside of the Indo-Pacific.  And we have affirmed our commitment to cooperate closely with these three countries in issues of common concern – again, energy, health betterment, and food security, as well as the several other aspects of our very wide-ranging relationship. 

So with that, let me turn it over to you and I look forward to your questions.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Under Secretary Fernandez.  We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.  And our first question is one that we received in advance from Dai Wakabayashi from the New York Times, based in Seoul, Korea:  “Where does the U.S. stand on the Platform Fair Competition Act being proposed by the Yoon administration and Korea’s FTC?  Obviously, this proposed bill would have a significant impact on American internet companies operating here.” 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you.  Thank you for the question.  I’ll give you a short answer and then I’ll try and expand on it in terms of giving you some background.  The Platform Act that’s being discussed here was actually not brought up in the SED, in the Economic Dialogue that we had yesterday – was not in the SED agenda, didn’t come up in our discussions.  And frankly, we haven’t seen in – at the U.S. embassy a draft of the proposed legislation, so we can’t speculate on its contents.   

What we have done is encourage the Government of the Republic of Korea to ensure that all stakeholders have a – the time and the opportunity to provide feedback.  So that’s a specific answer on the Platform Act. 

But I think the broader piece of this is also important.  I have now been – this is my third trip to Korea.  Korea was among the first countries that I spoke to when I joined the State Department, now two and a half years ago.  And the – what we’ve done throughout our time here, what we did – what I did last year when I visited Korea as we were starting on the Inflation Reduction Act, is we made it clear to Korea that we – it’s in our interest to, as friends, as partners, to discuss their concerns on – and we made it clear in the – as part of the IRA and the CHIPS Act that we knew that they had concerns, that we were prepared to discuss them as partners, as friends, because we could not achieve our goals – our clean energy goals, our supply chain goals – alone.  We needed to do it in a partnership. 

That has translated into – that translates into the Platform Act as well.  We are – we’re partners.  We engage.  We receive their comments.  They provide comments, as they are now, for other pieces of legislation in the U.S.  And so that’s what we intend to do with the Platform Act, and frankly, it’s something that the Koreans expect with respect to their concerns, and that’s exactly what partners do.  And so to me, I see that as a – as really a – our engagement on both ends.  I see that as proof of the strength of our relationship.   

MODERATOR:  Next question, I see Othel Campos.  You have your hand raised.  If you would like to unmute, please go ahead and ask your question.  Othel Campos from the Manila Standard. 

QUESTION:  Good morning, sir.  Good morning, Under Secretary Fernandez.  Sir, can I ask you if the U.S. is still interested to forge a critical minerals agreement with the Philippines similar to that of the U.S.-Japan on top of the chips agreement that you signed two days ago, when you were here in the Philippines? 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  So we have – we had long discussions on critical minerals with the Philippines.  We – as you know, the Philippines is, after Indonesia, has the largest reserves of nickel in the world, and that’s an opportunity and it also matches what we have been trying to do as part of the diversifying of our supply chains.  One of which – one of those instruments is the Minerals Security Partnership that I have spent a lot of time working on.  The Minerals Security Partnership is made up of 13 countries plus the European Union.  It’s an agreement for all of us to work together to share information about projects, share investment opportunities, financing opportunities, work on recycling, and to do all of this by following the highest environmental, social, and governance principles.   

That is our competitive advantage, and the Philippines is interested in exploring opportunities in the critical minerals sector.  And one of the things that we talked about is how we establish a closer relationship, working relationship, with the Minerals Security Partnership in order to allow potential projects in the Philippines in – not just in nickel but in cobalt and in copper to be – to receive investment and to receive the kinds of financing that they need.  

This is an opportunity.  The Philippines can take a vulnerability that we all have to supply chain – to our desire to have diversification in the critical minerals supply chain.  They can take that and use that to their advantage by working to attract the kinds of investments that will bring jobs to the Philippines and will do so by respecting communities, creating employment, and not making countries have to choose between economic growth and environmental degradation.  That’s an opportunity, and I discussed that with my colleagues in several ministries in the Philippines. 

We did not talk about a critical minerals agreement.  That’s something that – it’s something that right now, frankly, it’s not something we are discussing.   

MODERATOR:  Next question from the Q&A queue here, from Tuan Dao from The Investor in Hanoi, Vietnam.  “Yesterday the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper said that he hoped the U.S. would recognize Vietnam’s market economy status in June this year.  What is your update and comment on this process?”  

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you for the question.  And by way of background, I had an excellent set of meetings with government officials in Vietnam.  We have, as you know, re – when President Biden was in Vietnam last year, we’ve upgraded our relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership.  And I’m glad to say – and I came back from Vietnam thinking that, really, our ties have never been stronger, and that the opportunities to work on semiconductors, on clean energy, on critical minerals, are really wide-ranging.  Our trade with Vietnam is reaching record levels: $140 billion a year in Vietnam.   

Every government official to whom I spoke brought up the issue of the non-market economy designation, and what I said was the same at every stop, and that is: in our system, that is a quasi-judicial proceeding.  First of all, it is not – doesn’t involve the State Department; it involves the Commerce Department.  We were very pleased to see that Vietnam has requested a review of its designation as a non-market economy.  The non-market economy designation requires an assessment of six areas that are fed in our legislation.  It is not a political decision.  And we were glad to see that Vietnam has asked for a review of that.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Next question goes to Philip Heijmans from Bloomberg.  I see your hand is raised.  Please unmute and ask your question.  

QUESTION:  Hi, and thank you very much for doing this.  I have a question regarding South China Sea.  Philippines and Vietnam are two countries that have energy security concerns, specifically regarding offshore oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea.  A lot of those – a few of those are at least at a standstill due to, partially, Chinese (inaudible) own tactics there.  I wonder, is it part of the U.S. strategy to help these two countries to combat that in any sense or to help these projects move forward in the future?  Thank you.  

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Yeah, I – that is not something we discussed.  Obviously it’s something that is on everyone’s mind, but it’s not really part of my portfolio.  What I will say about that is we – it’s our policy to insist that international law be adhered to, and I’ll leave it at that.  

MODERATOR:  Next question is one that we received in advance from Nhu Nguyen from OEC, Danang, Vietnam.  “Mr. Fernandez, what are your thoughts on Vietnam’s preparedness to develop its semiconductor industry and how it could alter its laws to address the labor shortage in this sector and maximize the financial benefits from the U.S. CHIPS Act?  Thank you.”  

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you for the question.  That actually was something we talked about a fair amount during my time in Vietnam.  Our CHIPS Act provides $52 billion more or less – and the exact number escapes me right now, but $52 billion – to promote our supply chain industry and our – to diversify our supply chain production.  And it’s already been quite successful in attracting investment into our – into the U.S. and promoting our supply chain diversification and resilience.   

We also have through the CHIPS Act – we’ve been allocated at the State Department $500 million over five years to promote the international supply chains for chips.  What we’ve done in the last few months since the enactment of the CHIPS Act, since we received this allocation, is to look at several countries as potential partners to work with us in this diversification of semiconductor supply chains.  Vietnam is one of those seven countries through what we call the ITSI fund, I-T-S-I.  And we’ve designated Vietnam.  Vietnam is now – we are expecting recommendations from the OECD on how we can support the creation of an international supply chain in Vietnam for semiconductors, and I’m expecting that very soon.  Once we do that, we’ve talked to our Vietnamese counterparts and we will start implementing those recommendations.   

This is an opportunity.  And the one issue that you mentioned that is in everyone’s mind – and not just in Vietnam but in many other countries – is workforce development.  This – in every country, in every investment – actually, even in the U.S. – companies are telling us they need more qualified workers in order to invest in these countries.  That’s what we’re expecting to do through the ITSI funds: work to try and upgrade the – and upscale, the upscaling of workforce in Vietnam and in several other countries.  And it’s an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity to create the kinds of jobs for the energy – the industries of the future that we’re hoping to create both in the United States and elsewhere. 

So this is – if I were to put our opportunities in the short term in Vietnam, I think the semiconductor industry is at the very top, and there’s interest.  We’re getting inquiries from U.S. companies and else – and from elsewhere that are looking to establish opportunities in Vietnam. 

It also – just to digress a little bit, but it is related.  It also fits in with another piece of our strategy, which is the clean energy industry.  A number of semiconductor companies from the U.S. and elsewhere that are looking to invest in Vietnam are – have made commitments to their shareholders and to their customers that they will use renewable energy.  And so they are looking for Vietnam to attract more clean energy in order for them to be able to set up in Vietnam.   

So when you think about it, it’s a virtuous cycle.  Our clean energy goals and our semiconductor goals in this case coalesce and actually reinforce each other.  

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question goes to Zen Hernandez.  Your hand is raised.  Zen Hernandez from ABS-CBN News in Manila.   

QUESTION:  Hello, and Under Secretary, good morning to you.  I have two questions, and please allow me to just ask both right away.  First of all, let me start by saying that power and energy supply has become a major concern for the Philippines.  We have very high, expensive electricity in the country.  And President Marcos, for one, is looking at reviving the Bataan nuclear power plant with the goal of adding nuclear energy into the energy mix.  And I believe the U.S. Secretary of State Blinken signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with our energy secretary.  So I’m hoping that you can share more details about this, whether it includes investments on the revival of the Bataan nuclear power plant or possibly new nuclear projects.  

And the second one is that because we have a main power source for Luzon Island, the Malampaya gas field – it’s nearing depletion, and so there are calls to pursue natural gas and oil exploration.  So I’m just interested if the U.S. – interested to know if the U.S. is willing to invest or fund oil exploration efforts in the West Philippine Sea.   

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Let me take the first question first.  On electricity, that was discussed at several of our meetings in the Philippines.  The Government of the Philippines obviously is very well aware that this is a constraint to investment, and in fact when I asked the question of how expensive it was, they told me that – the numbers they gave me actually was twice what I pay in New York City for my electricity.  So this is a constraint; they are aware of it.  They – it also affects the willingness of critical mineral companies, of mining companies, of semiconductor manufacturers to invest in the Philippines.  Both of these are energy-intensive industries. 

And so this is, again, an opportunity to take a vulnerability and make it in – and make it a – make it an opportunity, make it (inaudible), turn it into an advantage in the sense that the Philippines has ample wind, obviously has ample sun, and it would be – it’s something that I know is already on the minds of the government to try and promote and incentivize offshore wind in the Philippines.  So we talked about that. 

And with respect to the nuclear energy agreement, yes, that was signed – the 123 Agreement – that nuclear has to be part of our clean energy future, of our energy needs, and we’re prepared, as we have by signing the 123 Agreement, we are prepared to support that.  And I made that clear to our counterparts in the Philippines. 

With respect to oil and gas, it’s not something we talked about.  It is not something we —  

MODERATOR:  Okay, we have time for one last question, and we’re going to go to another question from the Philippines, from Meg Adonis.  This was sent in advance.  Meg Adonis from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, from Quezon City.  “What will be the U.S.’s priority programs with the Philippines for the energy sector?  And apart from tapping the Development Finance Corporation to fund infrastructure projects, were there any other partnerships forged during your meeting with the Department of Energy, especially on renewable energy?” 

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Well, renewable energy is – we are gratified to see how eager the Marcos administration is to promote clean energy in the Philippines.  The Philippines is one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, and so it’s important.  But it’s also, as I said earlier, this is an opportunity.  It’s an opportunity for them to attract investment.  It’s an opportunity for them to promote the clean energy future that we all – that we all need to achieve.   

So we spoke about a number of these items.  One of them that – actually, two of them that actually stick out is – and to me, this is almost the lowest-hanging fruit in our energy relationship – is the Philippines has joined the Methane Pledge.  And the experts tell you that the Philippines, with existing technology, can reduce 75 percent of its methane emissions.  They can eliminate them with existing technologies.  That’s something that we could start working on right now; that’s something that the Philippines is very eager to cooperate on.  

So that to me is probably on the energy front.  In addition to the investment, that is one of the short-term low-hanging fruit opportunities that we have in the Philippines.  

MODERATOR:  And that brings us to the end of our time for today.  Thank you very much for your questions, and thank you to Under Secretary Fernandez for joining us today.   

UNDER SECRETARY FERNANDEZ:  Thank you all.  Take care.  

MODERATOR:  We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it is available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at  Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon. 

U.S. Department of State

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