Moderator: Thanks so much, and good morning from London. Good afternoon in Singapore. I’d like to thank all of our participants from across the Pacific joining us today.
Today we have the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh. She and her 200 colleagues around the world are responsible for advancing American prosperity and entrepreneurship worldwide. She’s going to speak to us today about the economic aspects of our Indo-Pacific Strategy and be able to take some questions afterwards.
Before I turn it over to the Assistant Secretary I just want to remind you that today’s call is on the record.
With that, Assistant Secretary Singh, thanks so much for speaking with us today.
Assistant Secretary Singh: Thank you, Helaena. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, and thank you all for joining me today to discuss the Trump administration’s economic engagement to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific.
This week I visited Japan, the Philippines, now I’m in Singapore, and from here I’m going to India. I’m meeting with government and business leaders about how we can work together to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
I’m here representing the United States at the East Asia Summit Economic Ministers Meeting. I’ll travel to India next to speak at the U.S.-India Business Council Annual General Meeting and Idea Summit where I’ll discuss the combined powers of infrastructure and investment to unleash the economic potential of the Indo-Pacific.
This region is home to half the world’s population and GDP. The Indo-Pacific is experiencing rapid economic development, population growth and is a major engine of global economic growth.
Over the last seven decades, the United States has continuously sought to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific in which independent nations with diverse cultures and differing aspirations can prosper side by side in freedom and peace.
U.S. public and private engagement contributed to the transformation of the Indo-Pacific into the economic powerhouse that it is today. Right now, annual U.S. two-way trade with the region amounts to about $1.5 trillion per year. The stock of foreign direct investment from the U.S. private sector stands at about $940 billion as measured in 2017. This has more than doubled since 2007.
Our approach has always emphasized private sector-led engagement because we recognize that only the private sector has the resources to fuel the region’s future economic growth and potential. We build environments that help American companies succeed, local communities flourish, and partnerships grow.
The U.S. is making strategic investments in the Indo-Pacific that accelerate private sector investments and open new opportunities for working with allies and partners.
At the July 30th Indo-Pacific Business Forum, Secretary of State Pompeo announced a $113 million in new initiatives that will among other things support growth and development sectors foundational to the Indo-Pacific’s economic future, the digital economy, infrastructure and energy.
On the digital economy, we have the digital connectivity in cyber security partnerships, which is designed to improve digital connectivity, promote market-driven digital regulatory policies, and build cyber security capacity.
Next we have the infrastructure transaction and assistance network, which is aimed to help develop sustainable infrastructure in the region.
Finally on energy we have Asia EDGE, or enhancing development and growth through energy to strengthen energy security and ensure access across the region.
All of these initiatives promote the whole of government approaches to unleashing the power of the private sector, fostering business and public sector connections, and setting transparent market-based approaches to growth. These are initiatives that we will build upon in the coming years. They’re initial efforts, and we hope to see them grow with partnerships in the region.
In addition to the initiatives outlined above, the Trump administration also supports the better utilization of investments leading to development or BUILD Act which is under consideration by the U.S. Congress right now. This legislation is a key effort in revamping U.S. development finance. The BUILD Act would more than double U.S. development finance resources to about $60 billion.
We appreciate that our partners are also putting resources behind economic development in the Indo-Pacific. The United States is committed to working with our partners across the region on economic and commercial engagement that adheres to high standards of transparency, open competition, and financial sustainability.
The United States, Japan and Australia have announced a trilateral partnership to invest in infrastructure projects in the region. This initiative builds upon two U.S.-Japan bilateral memoranda of understanding signed in November of 2017 and in February 2018 U.S.-Australia memorandum of understanding.
During Secretary Pompeo’s trip to the region we followed up on this with an additional joint statement with Japan and Australia affirming our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. We have a variety of dialogues and other avenues with all nations in the region to promote high standards for trade and investment.
We are also working with multilateral organizations such as ASEAN and APEC to set economic rules of the road that benefit all countries.
President Trump’s National Security Strategy states that economic security is national security. The United States is committed to pursuing partnership economics in the Indo-Pacific and we want to work with nations in the region to foster open environments that attract greater private investment.
I’m very pleased to bring this message to the region personally on my trip this week. My goal as a leader on economic policy in the State Department is to empower growth and secure the future. Our team of 200 employees in Washington, D.C. and 1500 economic officers posted in embassies and consulates around the world, including here in this region, are committed to pursuing strong partners on issues ranging from international trade to digital connectivity to development finance. We want to see a prosperous region and prosperous partnerships for all of the peoples in the Indo-Pacific.
With that, I’m happy to answer questions.
Moderator: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Singh. We’ll now open up for questions. We have about 15 or 20 minutes for questions.
Operator: Our first question comes from the line of Vietanh Phan of VN Express. Please go ahead.
Press: Thank you. My question is could you tell us about the detail of the [inaudible] when [inaudible] United States and now that there are 113 million U.S. dollars in this region?
Assistant Secretary Singh: Yes, certainly. The $113 million that we’ve announced is divided up amongst the three subject matter areas that I mentioned which is infrastructure, energy and digital connectivity. And it’s not meant to fund the projects in the region. It’s meant to be a catalyst to support private sector investment. We want to provide capacity-building, technical assistance, share best practices. The monies are to support platforms which will foster private sector engagement and private sector development in the region.
Operator: The next question is from Tan Hui Yee of the Straits Times.
Press: Good afternoon. Could you elaborate on ASEAN’s role in the Indo-Pacific economic strategy? And also the role of regional [inaudible] like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Assistant Secretary Singh: Certainly. Secretary Pompeo has mentioned that the ASEAN region is central to our Indo-Pacific Strategy. The trade relationship between the United States and the ASEAN is one of the most significant and it continues to grow. Two-way trade with Indo-Pacific countries in 2017 was around $1.5 trillion. And 7 of the 15 largest U.S. goods export markets are right here in the region.
So the ASEAN countries are central to our Indo-Pacific Strategy. We would like to see our partnerships, our economic, commercial strategic relationships with countries grow and prosper through the Indo-Pacific strategy that we have outlined.
And your question on RCEP, the United States of course is not a party to RCEP. We feel that this Indo-Pacific Strategy is a comprehensive bridge to the region that will encompass our economic and commercial relationships and help grow our relationships with our trading partners.
Operator: The next question comes from the line of May Kunmakara of Khmer Times. Please go ahead.
Press: Hi. I got the question regarding [inaudible] infrastructure and [inaudible]initiative. [Inaudible]. [Recording breaking up.] — also want to transport itself into the digital economy [inaudible]. I’m wondering whether the U.S. have any help for the Cambodian government [inaudible]? Thank you.
Operator: Sir, you have to repeat that question again, because from here we are not hearing it properly, the question.
Press: My first question is regarding the [inaudible] about the infrastructure and the digital economy. I’m wondering whether it is a big help in [inaudible] some other ASEAN countries, especially like [inaudible] like Cambodia.
And another one is about the digital economy, because the Cambodian government has it to transform itself into the [inaudible] by 2023. [Inaudible]. And later, it is [inaudible] have any policy to help the local government to reach the target.
Assistant Secretary Singh: Thank you for that question. I think you were asking about financing. As I mentioned, the $113 million divided up amongst the three subject matter areas that I mentioned is intended to catalyze private sector investment. We would like to see the U.S. private sector engage with private enterprise in the region to fulfill these development needs.
And I believe you asked about the digital economy with the Cambodian government, and our hope is that we can partner with all the governments in the region to stress the need for cybersecurity. We would like to share best practices, technical training, and make sure that we have a global, seamless, whole of government approach to ensuring that there are no vulnerabilities, or minimizing the vulnerabilities in our cyber infrastructure.
So we went to work with all governments on technical capacity training.
And resources, the private sector resources will be there, hopefully will be attracted to the region. And as I mentioned, as far as development finance, our Overseas Private Investment Corporation is getting increased resources, and those will be distributed in accordance with regular OPIC practices.
Operator: The next question comes from the line of David Tweed of Bloomberg. Please go ahead.
Press: Hello, thank you. I just looked at the stock of foreign direct investment rising to $940 billion in 2017, doubling since 2007. That pretty much coincides with the Obama administration. So what was the Obama administration doing right during the past decade? And how does the Trump administration’s approach really differ from what Obama had already put in place? And do you have a forecast for how much FDI you see by 2027, in ten years?
Assistant Secretary Singh: Thank you for that question. As far as previous administrations, I’m here to speak to the Trump administration and looking forward to the future.
We think that this initiative represents a new level of engagement, a new level of commitment to the region. And as far as roads, I think the private sector…
Assistant Secretary Singh: What do you mean how?
Press: How is it a new level of commitment?
Assistant Secretary Singh: As I mentioned, we’re outlining these initiatives that specifically focus on infrastructure. We are mobilizing our private sector.
Just this spring, in April, my Bureau held a summit in conjunction with the Japanese embassy in Washington in which we had over 100 U.S. and Japanese private sector companies come together to determine how they could work collaboratively to fill the infrastructure needs of the region.
I was just in the Philippines and they were outlining for me all of their development needs. They don’t currently have a subway system. They’re planning a new subway system. They need help with the bridges, roads, airports, all sorts of infrastructure needs. And the U.S. companies and Japanese companies are figuring out how we can mobilize. These needs haven’t been fulfilled.
So the commitment is we are saying we are including these measures. As I mentioned, $113 million in financing to be able to provide support.
Moderator: I think we have time for one more question.
Operator: The next question comes from the line of Anthony Rowley of Nikkei/SCMP. Please go ahead.
Press: Hello. As you know, the needs, the capital needs or investment needs of the Indo-Pacific region are very large. Secretary Pompeo spoke of something like $26 trillion between now and 2030. The resources, as you say, are mainly in the private sector. So realistically, have you any new initiatives which are going to draw these resources, these massive resources out of the private sector? Apart from hoping they money will come, does the U.S. intend to announce any new official initiatives, government led initiatives, that could change this, or close this huge financing gap?
Assistant Secretary Singh: That’s exactly what we are announcing. This is the U.S.-Indo Pacific Strategy, and we are catalyzing and mobilizing private sector investment through these programs, through these partnerships. Developing platforms with our partner countries in the region to mobilize the private sector.
And we’ve had a lot of interest and engagement from private sector entities, as I just gave the example of in the spring when we did a summit with the Japanese embassy, and we had over 100 U.S. and Japanese companies who were there and ready to learn more about how they could engage in the region.
So we want to continue those sorts of efforts to make sure that our private sector has the tools that it needs and we can fix any of the issues that might exist from a policy perspective for them to be able to move forward and fill the needs in the region.
Operator: The final question comes from the line of Tuan Dao of Hanoi Times. Please go ahead.
Press: Thank you very much. Good morning. I have two questions for you. The first, can you please tell me if this Indo-Pacific strategy is renewal of the [inaudible] under the Obama administration?
And the second question is, what role can Vietnam play in this new Indo-Pacific Strategy? Thank you very much.
Assistant Secretary Singh: Thank you for that question. We consider Vietnam to be one of the partners in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. As the Secretary has mentioned, all of the ASEAN Nations are central to the strategy. We have such a large amount of trade and investment, significant foreign direct investment going into the region from the United States including to Vietnam. So we think of Vietnam as a partner that will be central to this initiative in addition to the other Southeast Asian nations.
Moderator: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Singh, and thank you to our participants today.
Assistant Secretary Singh, I know you have a very busy schedule today. Would you like to make any closing remarks before we end the call?
Assistant Secretary Singh: I just want to thank everyone for joining us here today and just emphasize the fact that the Trump administration is committed to the region. We want to work with our allies and partners here to make sure that the development needs are met, and find ways for our private sector to really collaborate and be able to contribute to growth and development here. And I thank you again for your time on this call.