On her third trip to Asia since assuming office last year, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker embarked on a tour of Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar last week. Secretary Pritzker was joined by US-ASEAN Business Council Chairman Evan Greenberg and President Alex Feldman, as well as CEOs from ACE, UL, AES, General Atlantic, Marsh & McLennan Companies, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Qualcomm, and Rio Tinto. According to the Commerce Department, her trip “demonstrate[d] the importance of the region to the Obama administration and the U.S. business community and […] shared commitment to increasing U.S. commercial activity with ASEAN.”
Today, ASEAN is the second fastest growing economy in Asia, with a GDP of $2.4 trillion. ASEAN is the number one destination for US investment in Asia, more than in all of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, China and India) combined. It is predicted that by 2022 the Asia-Pacific region will house 54 percent of the world’s middle class and import over $10 trillion of goods and services. A significant portion of this will be centered in ASEAN, where $1 trillion will be needed to finance the infrastructure the region needs to continue its current growth.
Secretary Pritzker’s ASEAN visit began in Vietnam, whose bilateral trade with the United States equaled just under $30 billion last year. A huge proponent of entrepreneurship, Secretary Pritzker held a discussion with Vietnam’s American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) to highlight her work as chair of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, which supports entrepreneurs around the world.
While in the Philippines, Secretary Pritzker told AmCham that “The United States and our companies have a long-term stake in ASEAN’s economic prosperity.” During this leg of the trip, she invited the Philippines to join negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), stating that it would be a boon to the bilateral trade relationship which reached $24 billion dollars last year. As part of addressing infrastructure concerns in the region, the AES delegates pledged to double the capacity of its coal-fired power plant in the country, as well as install energy storage facilities for lithium batteries. These actions will help provide energy to areas of the Philippines that are still lacking many basic resources.
Energy and infrastructure development were central themes during Secretary Pritzker’s stop in Myanmar, where she became the first U.S. Commerce Secretary to visit the country. She highlighted a plan between Myanmar and APR Energy which will lead to the construction of one of the largest thermal plants in the country, providing power for six million people. To date, the United States has invested $250 million in Myanmar and in 2013 bilateral trade reached $176 million. To foster further growth of this bilateral relationship, on June 6th Secretary Pritzker opened up a new trade office in Yangon, signaling U.S. commitments to the continued growth and prosperity of the Burmese people.
Sarah Batiuk is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.