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MODERATOR:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Asia Pacific region and around the world.  Today we have the honor of hosting an on-the-record briefing with Enoh Ebong, Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and Matt Murray, U.S. Senior Official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

USTDA Director Ebong and Senior Official Murray will discuss the outcomes of today’s Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Tokyo, Japan, as well as U.S. economic engagement in the region.  The speakers will take questions from participating journalists.

I’ll now turn it over to Director Ebong for her opening remarks.  The floor is yours.

MS EBONG:  Thank you, and good evening, everyone.  An important question facing the Indo-Pacific region is how we can mobilize the technical innovation of industry to build stronger and more resilient economies that work for all our citizens.  This question was addressed earlier today during the fifth Indo-Pacific Business Forum, which is the premier venue for convening business leaders and senior government officials from the Indo-Pacific region and the United States.  Its goal is to advance our collective prosperity.

We discussed the role of high-quality infrastructure to stimulate inclusive economic growth, including clean energy and decarbonization, the digital economy, and supply chains.  These areas of focus are why USTDA has now hosted IPBF for the fourth time.  In fact, for the past 30 years we have worked in partnership across the Indo-Pacific to advance the region’s infrastructure priorities.

USTDA provides grant funding for feasibility studies, technical assistance, and pilot projects, which are the critical tools for attracting financing and deploying innovative technologies to the region’s highest infrastructure priorities.  USTDA also convenes events like IPBF to build partnerships between governments and private stakeholders in support of our shared goals.

This year’s IPBF was possible because of our collaboration with numerous partners, including the Government of Japan, industry organizations from across the region and the United States, and our colleagues in the U.S. Government.  A little bit on the forum participation: It included a virtual component, which allowed for 1,000 virtual participants, 120 of which were in Tokyo, 120 in Manila, 40 in Dhaka, and then the rest across 53 countries.

During IPBF, USTDA announced two calls for proposals to expand our portfolio in the emerging economies in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework countries and the Pacific Islands.  USTDA also announced that we will deploy infrastructure accelerator teams to eligible IPEF countries.  The teams will identify projects where our assistance can help unlock financing for infrastructure.  We also signed an advance agreement that will support digital transformation and renewable energy integration for power utilities in Malaysia.  Together these projects have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people who rely on quality infrastructure for their livelihoods and well-being.

Finally, I would like to add that these projects, this forum, and USTDA’s full portfolio are emblematic of the values that we  set as a core to our work.  That is trust, mutual benefit, and our collective prosperity.

I look forward to taking your questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Director Ebong.  I’ll now turn it over to Senior Official Murray for his opening remarks.  Over to you, sir.

MR MURRAY:  Well, thank you, Catherine, and thank you to all of the journalists who’ve joined the call.  I’m very grateful to be here together with Director Ebong and colleagues from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency for – to talk about the Indo-Pacific Business Forum.  We had a great day here today, marked by a lot of engagements from leadership across the United States and Japan, a combination of virtual engagements and in-person engagements with, as Director Ebong said, all of the many – the numbers of folks who joined from around the region.

I think for us at the State Department it’s really important that we continue to promote these kinds of events because when we think about the history of U.S. engagement with this region, so much of it is grounded in commercial engagement and people-to-people ties.  And really, the private sector and private sector engagement with the region is the lifeblood of so much of really what we’re doing here in the Indo-Pacific.

And so as we look at really the figures, the United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in the Indo-Pacific region, with nearly 1 trillion in FDI in 2021, and also over 2 trillion in two-way trade.  So as we look at the numbers in terms of the United States’ largest trading partners, the United States’ largest destinations for foreign investment, as well as some of the most important countries for investing in the United States, we really are looking at the dynamism and the vibrancy of the Indo-Pacific as really driving a lot of that growth now and, we expect, into the future.

So we’re therefore very delighted and excited to have had the opportunity to have had this Indo-Pacific Business Forum today in Tokyo.  And of course as we think about regional economic initiatives, Japan is a tremendously important partner across so many different areas and priorities for us.  As I think many of you know, President Biden launched the Indo-Pacific Strategy in which there is an economic prosperity pillar, and I think that it’s important to emphasize that the economic prosperity pillar includes a whole number of different engagements.

Of course, this past year, in 2022, the President launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework here in Tokyo, and coming up in 2023, the United States will host APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, through a number of events across the next year.  Japan is hosting the G7.  India is hosting the G20.  And so it’s really a big year for this part of the world in terms of multilateral engagement.

And I think it’s also important to note that in many of the sectors and the areas that countries around the region really care about – supply chain resiliency, decarbonization, clean energy, the digital economy, and lot of the 21st century issues that we really need to address – there are a number of opportunities as we go forward and, I hope, as we all grow in the same direction moving forward through the next year and the years beyond.

So I’m very pleased to be here and would be happy to try to answer your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question goes to Motoko Rich of The New York Times.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for holding this call and taking our questions.  I have a question about sort of the strategy behind this kind of economic – regional economic initiatives in the Indo-Pacific and how much of it is about sort of providing a group bulwark against China’s investment or development aid in the region.  And how do you manage that with many counties kind of trying to balance and not choose sides?

MS EBONG:  Thank you.  I will answer this very much from the perspective of a U.S. Government agency that is – that is in the context of project development in the region.  And I think that there are two sides of this that came out very much in discussions today – first, that there are norms, rules of law, and intentional agreements as to how we all conduct ourselves in the course of our work.  And so we expect that everyone will hold to those.  And from our perspective as an agency that is preparing infrastructure projects for investment and bringing the best of U.S. solutions and technologies to the region, we want to make sure that our partners have choices, have alternative choices for all of their investments that they wish to take.

And so we are focused in a globally competitive world in making sure that we are prepared to provide all of the options that our partners ask for in terms of the creativity and innovation of U.S. solutions and technologies.  So that is the vantage point from which we look at it, and that, I think, is what ensures that we can all look to resilient, modern infrastructure is going to answer the needs and priorities of the partners that we work with across the region.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MURRAY:  And I would only add to that that there’s also, I think, as we look at all the regional economic initiatives, as you know, each one of them has different memberships.  Each one of them has slightly different mechanisms, slightly different ways of operating.  In the case of APEC, where I coordinate the engagement for the U.S. Government, that’s an organization in which China is a member.  And so we also want to see what areas there might be for us to cooperate with China as well as, as Director Ebong noted, make sure that international rules and norms are being followed and the commitments that we’ve all made in APEC are being followed.

But then there are other mechanisms on the regional economic side in which China is not a member.  For example, one of our sessions today, we talked about the G7 because Japan is hosting the G7 this year.  The agenda might be slightly different there given the membership.  But that said, I think it’s important also to emphasize that for so many of these engagements, we’re really looking at somewhat similar objectives:  How can we come out of the COVID pandemic to really put ourselves on stronger footing for sustainable economic growth?  As Secretary Blinken has said, how can we meet this moment that we’re in as we look to address these challenges?  And that’s across the board from digital trade to supply chains to decarbonization and so many of these areas that we talked about today.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Our next question will go to Kaycee Valmonte of in the Philippines.  Her question is: “Can you please elaborate on how the IPEF could impact or be beneficial to countries like the Philippines?”

MS EBONG:  Yes.  Thank you for the question.  I think that IPEF, as Senior Official Murray has mentioned, covers several key areas, from trade generally, digital trade, supply chains, clean energy, and climate resiliency.  There’s a very clear and direct link to the work that an agency like USTDA does, and I will also say a link to another initiative that was launched by President Biden and the G7 this past summer called the Global Partnership for Infrastructure and Investment, which also contains a call – a tone on infrastructure and clean energy and digital trade, etcetera.

And what this does is provide a mechanism by which practical work can be done on the ground that feeds into the IPEF discussions and areas of focus.  And I’ll give you an example of what I mean.  In our work in the Philippines very recently, President Biden highlighted a project we had done working with a Philippines company that is a mineral mining company that’s looking to make an effort to provide clean energy in how it does its work.  And USTDA is providing a feasibility study to further that endeavor.  This fits directly with the goal in IPEF of clean and – clean energy and climate focus – smart climate – climate-smart infrastructure, if you will.

So we see direct linkage in the work that we are doing to fulfill the objectives of IPEF and across sectors that we’re working in.  And we will continue to do that work even as IPEF negotiations continue.

MR MURRAY:  And to that question, I would also add that one of the nice outcomes from today’s forum is that our friends at TDA have a website on the Indo-Pacific Business Forum where all the sessions from today will be live on Monday, where you’ll be able to access them.  And two sessions that you may be interested in on this question is we did have a session this morning with U.S. negotiators and Japanese negotiators on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.  They will be able to provide a bit more of the context on these – to the points that Director Ebong was making.  And then also later in the day, we had a session hosted by our embassy in Manila, which did a great job of really focusing on resiliency and supply chains and critical minerals and some of these areas which I know that IPEF is also focused on.

So I would definitely commend those sessions to you as something to check out when the website is up with the videos of those sessions.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Thank you.  Our next question came in from Tommy Patrio Sorongan of CNBC in Indonesia, who asks:  “We would like to know the prospect of trade relations between the U.S. and Indonesia, plus ASEAN.  Are there any new agreements being made?”

MR MURRAY:  Well, I think for that question, really a lot of today’s focus was on the regional economic initiatives that we are working on through the Indo-Pacific Strategy, as we’ve talked about.  And so IPEF, which we just mentioned, is a framework that Indonesia is engaged in and that Indonesia will be hosting some of the negotiations on that coming up, I believe in March.  And so we’re really excited about engaging Indonesia there.

I know also, obviously from my APEC perspective, we work with Indonesia very closely on a number of our goals there.  We’re excited about our host year and our focus on creating a resilient and sustainable future for all.  And we know that there are a lot of different work streams where Indonesia and the United States have a lot in common that we can work on together.  And of course there is much more economic engagement happening across ASEAN.  The President hosted the U.S.‑ASEAN Leaders’ Summit last spring, and obviously then also we had the East Asia Summit in November in Cambodia, which the President also attended.  And so there’s a lot going on that I think is very exciting in the region, including on these economic engagements.  And so certainly we see Indonesia as being a significant player in all of those areas as we go forward.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Our next question goes to Farah Adilla Radin of the New Straits Times in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, I have a question on Malaysia’s recent completed general election.  With the new government, how do you – how does the U.S. see trade and investment confidence on the country this year?  That’s all.  Thank you.

MR MURRAY:  So I think for – in terms of looking at the new government and the way we would engage Malaysia in the coming year, I don’t have any comments on sort of how things change with the new government because, again, I don’t work with Malaysia on a bilateral basis.  I was just there in Kuala Lumpur, though, last month to talk about APEC and to talk about a lot of our regional economic initiatives.  And I think for that the answer is similar to what we just talked about with Indonesia in that we see Malaysia as being a really important partner across these regional economic initiatives, whether it’s IPEF or whether it’s APEC or whether it’s in ASEAN.  And I think that even more importantly, there’s been a really strong recognition over the last year and a half of what an important role Malaysia plays in global supply chains.

And again, we talked a lot today about the importance of supply chain resilience and the importance of being able to have supply chains that are transparent, that we can depend on as countries in the region.  And clearly as we have gone through the COVID pandemic, Malaysia has demonstrated real importance there, whether it’s on PPE – personal protective equipment – or medical supplies or whether it’s semiconductors or so many different other manufacturing areas.  And so I think, as I said when I was in Kuala Lumpur last month, I think from a regional and global perspective, there’s certainly a growing recognition in Washington about the important role Malaysia plays and that’s why it’s so important that Malaysia is engaged in these regional initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and APEC and ASEAN.  And so we very much look forward – from my perspective, very much look forward to continuing to work with Malaysia on that basis.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Just combining a few of the questions we’ve had come in, we understand there’s some Pacific Islands Initiative coming out of today’s forum.  Is it possible to speak a little bit about the U.S. policy in the Pacific Islands, especially in light of China and other competitors in the region?

MS EBONG:  Yes, thank you for the question, and I would first highlight President Biden’s summit, the Pacific Island Country Leaders in July, and really from the inception of the administration ensuring that focus on the import of the Pacific Islands, particularly as we are talking about climate and the need to be assertive and aggressive in addressing our climate issues.

So in the summer, President Biden hosted a summit in which the leaders of Pacific Island countries came to the United States, and we discussed several of the key issues facing them.  And in the course of that summit, USTDA was designated as the implementing agency for the Pacific Island Countries Strategic Infrastructure Initiative, which is a focused initiative on making sure that we build the kind of quality infrastructure that is going to help and really create an ability to withstand some of the infrastructure challenges that these countries face.

What it means is that as an agency, we have more resources to grow our portfolio in the Pacific Islands, which already contains projects in the renewable and digital space in Fiji and Papua New Guinea and Tonga and the Solomon Islands.  So we’ll have the ability to expand that, but importantly, we will do so in partnership with our fellow countries in the region such as Japan and Australia, and of course working to understand the needs and priorities of our stakeholders on the ground.

So there is a concerted focus.  There is – there are resources dedicated to that, and you have in USTDA an agency that works directly and practically to develop projects that will speak to the urgent needs of partners on the ground, and we’ll do so in partnership with our private sector as well as countries in the region that have experience in the region and can contribute in a collaborative way to attending to their needs.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Our next question goes to Kemi Osukoya of Africa Bazaar based in New York.  Operator, please open the line.

OPERATOR:  The line is open.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for taking my question, and I thank you for doing this call.  I was wondering if you could talk about how you are engaging women and girls in the region and supporting them through trade and economic empowerment.

MS EBONG:  Thank you.  I will start with the perspective first of the import that the Biden administration has placed on this, and this includes building into IPEF the concept of inclusive and fair economies which will absolutely make sure that all – including women and girls – have the opportunity to participate fully in their economies.  I also want to mention the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment that I had mentioned earlier – the acronym is PGII – which contains a focus, a tone on women and gender equity and equality.

So this is incorporated fully in the concept of infrastructure development, and we will be working with our partners in the context of PGII to make sure that meaningful efforts are made to be inclusive in that area.

I want to talk a little bit about what USTDA specifically is doing in this space, which is, again, as an agency that is developing projects at the early stages, we have the ability to identify and to work with partners on the ground that are – have not only the skillsets but also are women-owned businesses.  Because we work with a range of companies – small, medium, and large – on the ground, so we work with the private sector as well as the public sector.  I’m not sure if I said that earlier, but just to make sure that that’s clear.  And in the course of our work, we work hard to identify those constituencies that have a lot to add and also have an understanding of the context and the impact that infrastructure development will have on these groups.  So we are working to and in the last year have commissioned a consultant to make sure that as we develop projects, we are doing so with the prism of gender equity and equality.  And we hope to reflect that, and it is a priority for us to reflect that, as we develop these projects.

MR MURRAY:  Yeah, I would add that women’s economic empowerment is a major area of focus for us at the State Department in these different initiatives as well.  I think, for example in APEC, when the United States last hosted APEC in 2011, one of, I think, the lasting legacies of that year was that then-Secretary of State Clinton launched the Policy Partnership on Women and the Economy and the Women’s Economic Forum.  And what that drew attention to in the APEC context was the importance of the full economic participation by women and girls in the economy.  And since then, we have really built that out to stretch across many of the APEC work streams.

We’ve worked with partners such as Chile a few years ago to really embed women’s economic empowerment across all APEC working groups.  We also have added initiatives on STEM education for women and girls in APEC and really tried to demonstrate that when women can fully participate in the economy, it really makes a difference – a tangible difference for economic growth – sometimes adding percentage points to the GDP if it’s done right.  And so it’s such an important issue, but we need to not be complacent about that issue because I think it’s been clear all the research that’s come out of the COVID pandemic that women and girls and women-run businesses have really been hit harder than others from the COVID pandemic.  And so this year in our APEC host year, we really have a focus on bringing together women – an economy stream together with the small- and medium-sized enterprises work stream and having a lot of discussions about ways in which we can support small women-run businesses, particularly coming out of the COVID pandemic.  So we’re very excited about seeing what we can do to advance things there.

The other thing that I would flag for the – for you is that last year in the context of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework negotiations, there was also a public-private partnership to promote digital upscaling for women and girls in the IPEF member countries.  And so that’s another really exciting initiative which the Asia Foundation and (inaudible) and a number of other U.S. companies are working on to really promote women’s economic empowerment in that way.

And so we definitely – I think it’s an indication of the importance that the director and I have both given rather lengthy answers on this question, but it is a really important issue for us and for the United States, but also for us to really drive forward as we engage the Indo-Pacific economies, because it is so important.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  That brings us to the end of our time.  Director Ebong, if you have any closing remarks, I’ll turn it back over to you.

MR EBONG:  Thank you so much.  And again, thank you to all the journalists in attendance.  I think what I would like to end with is my reflection of the collaboration and partnership and intent here today that we all felt and saw.  It is partnership with countries like Japan and others in the region who hold a similar view and value and perspective on the need to really be so mindful of the enormous growth that this region has and will have in the future.  And so that partnership, that centrality of the private sector and what it brings in terms of solutions, in terms of technology, in terms of ways in which to address challenging infrastructure issues and supply chain issues – I think that was very clear, and something that we are all taking heed of, and understanding the role that government can play in creating an environment where the private sector can succeed fully.

And then the focus of everyone on the betterment and the reason for what we’re doing in increasing and enhancing the livelihood of all of our citizens.  And I think that’s really clear both in the work to think beyond the way in which we’ve done things in the past, to really apply innovative thought to how we approach the issues and creating infrastructure for the 21st century; and then also the work in making sure that we are doing so in partnership, in collaboration, and with an understanding of the priorities and the needs of our partners on the ground.

As a representative of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, we look forward to continuing this role in making sure that the infrastructure that is invested in is really the best prepared and the highest quality of infrastructure.

MR MURRAY:  And I would just close by saying three things briefly, which I think reiterate some of the same points the director made.  The first point is that when it comes to the Indo-Pacific, the Biden administration has a very strong and robust regional economic agenda that is not just one initiative or two initiatives, but it’s a whole range of initiatives and lines of effort.  And I think we saw that today with all of the different agencies from the U.S. Government that were represented here in Tokyo, as well from the Japan side on all of their agencies that attended in person, and they had other government representatives and business representatives also joining from around the region virtually.

The second is that as we engage the region economically, we really do want to focus on solving the problems and addressing the challenges of the 21st century, whether those be infrastructure challenges or related to climate sustainability or supply chains or digital, or whatever they may be.

And thirdly, that we really do want to engage stakeholders across the board so that we can make sure this is a prosperity that everyone shares going forward.  And the private sector plays a critically important role in this process.  And so we definitely want to continue to focus on working hand-in-hand with the private sector as we move forward.  And so I think today’s Info-Pacific Business Forum was a tremendous way to work together and demonstrate that there are important steps we can take moving forward as we seek to achieve these objectives.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s call.  I would like to thank USTDA Director Ebong and U.S. Senior Official for APEC Murray for joining us, and thank you to all of our callers for participating.  If you have any questions about today’s call, you can contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at  Information on how to access the recording of this call will be provided by AT&T shortly.  Thank you, and have a great day.

U.S. Department of State

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