California fortified its position as a critical player in US-Southeast Asia economic relations as vessel services from Port of Oakland to Southeast Asia increased. Since April, direct weekly vessel calls from Port of Oakland to Southeast Asia grew 50% from 10 to 15, and weekly voyages from Oakland to Bangkok doubled from 2 to 4. In addition, the first direct vessel service between Oakland and Jakarta was launched to connect the state to Indonesia, and a weekly Singapore call was added to enhance transportation from Cambodia to Oakland.
US Ambassadors William Heidt (Cambodia) and Joseph Donovan (Indonesia) praised the stronger shipping and economic ties between the regions while attending the annual US Ambassadors’ Tour in Oakland.
The stronger maritime connectivity with Southeast Asia follows the emergence of the region as a manufacturing center for US markets and the stronger demand for US products from its growing middle class. Malaysia, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are especially ideal for US manufacturers due to their low-cost labor, strong manufacturing capabilities, favorable demographic profiles, and lucrative tax incentives. Several US firms are already exploring the emerging middle class markets in Southeast Asia – a North Dakota agricultural trade mission visited the Philippines in March, and a dairy trade mission from several West Coast states traveled to Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore in May to study local markets and promote their products.
California is the largest US exporter to Southeast Asia. The state exported $15.8 billion in goods and services to ASEAN in 2015, comprising more than 15% of total US exports to the region. California’s bilateral trade with ASEAN, which totaled $273 billion in 2016, provides more than 87,000 jobs to the state.
Southeast Asia has a robust presence in California. The state hosted President Barack Obama’s first US summit meeting with ASEAN leaders in 2016 at Sunnylands. Additionally, the Long Beach community – one of the largest Cambodian communities abroad – celebrated Khmer New Year in April, following a city council legislation that approved a grant constructing the Killing Field Memorial Garden.
Genna Liu is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a government and economics student at Dartmouth College.