On July 30th, US Cabinet Secretaries and senior officials from other federal government agencies spoke at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum to announce the Trump Administration’s strategy for commercial relations with the Indo-Pacific region. Held at the US Chamber of Commerce, the event outlined how the administration would realize this strategy through economic initiatives, energy initiatives, and public-private partnerships.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set the tone for the forum by establishing a “free and open” vision for the Indo-Pacific. “Free”, meaning countries are able to protect sovereignty and exercise good governance, and “open”, meaning equal accessibility to air and sea trade routes, as well fair economic opportunities in transparent trade and investment environments. Secretary Pompeo then announced three initiatives, backed by $113 million in immediate funding:
- The Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, designed to develop regional digital infrastructure through technical assistance and private support;
- Asia EDGE (Enhancing Development and Growth Through Energy), designed in concert with the Department of Energy to address growing Indo-Pacific energy demands through encouragement of market-based policies and US energy exports;
- And the Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network, an interagency body designed to provide strategic assistance for sustainable infrastructure development.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross furthered opportunities for US and Indo-Pacific economic partnership by announcing three forthcoming flagship events dedicated to Indo-Pacific opportunities:
- Discover Global Markets (DGM): Indo-Pacific, which will highlight Asian markets for US exporters;
- Trade Winds: India, a conference designed to connect US exporters with Asian trade officials;
- Trade Winds: Hong Kong, where American exporters would return to Asia to close deals and explore new opportunities.
Secretary Ross also announced India’s granted status as a Strategic Trade Authorization Tier 1 country, a license exception that would allow US defense companies to trade with Indian clients at a higher volume.
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry detailed how the United States could help meet Indo-Pacific demands for conventional and renewable energy via the Asia EDGE initiative. Through Asia EDGE, the Department of Energy would;
- expand regional energy commerce through public and private sector cooperation,
- foster cooperation between regional governments in developing and evaluating energy policy,
- partner with international financial entities to finance private export and investment projects,
- improve energy accessibility through technical assistance and US energy exports.
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Mark Green pledged the agency’s support in enabling a “free and open” Indo-Pacific. Green stated that USAID would be able to ensure a vibrant Indo-Pacific business environment by way of capacity-building programs, fair and transparent governance programs that allow for the establishment of legal and regulatory business frameworks, and programs aimed at integrating regional markets.
Finally, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), joined by representatives from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announced a new trilateral partnership dedicated to regional infrastructure investment. The agreement builds on two prior memorandums of understanding between the three countries this past year, and the plan includes the establishment of an OPIC office at the US Embassy in Tokyo.
The Indo-Pacific Business forum aimed to bolster the already strong business relationship the United States and Asia enjoy. As of 2016, the United States exported over $603 billion worth of goods and services to Asia. US foreign direct investment in Asia totals to around $846 billion, while Asian foreign direct investment in the United States totals almost $600 billion. Currently, Asian investment has created 55,998 jobs in the United States. This two-way economic partnership, punctuated by the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, exemplifies why Asia matters for America.
For further information on the Trump Administration’s policy towards Asia, the East-West Center Washington’s special project on the Trump Administration and US-Indo-Pacific relations provides updates on President Trump and his cabinet’s activities.
Joseph Meisburger is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is currently a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Arizona, studying Geography and Urban & Regional Development.