By Brigitta Kinadi
On July 13, more than 200 business leaders and top government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, gathered in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for a conference to expand American business access and interest in Southeast Asia. Hosted by the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce, the forum, “Commitment to Connectivity: The US-ASEAN Business Forum,” brought together key individuals in the public and private sector to discuss opportunities to strengthen US-ASEAN economic ties. In total, the forum hosted representatives from over 100 American businesses.
In her speech, Clinton hailed “the largest US-ASEAN business event ever assembled” and highlighted the economic importance of the ASEAN region for the United States, saying that:
“We are certainly elevating our engagement across the board with Asia, and we’re paying particular attention to ASEAN and Southeast Asia. We’re pursuing an economic statecraft and jobs diplomacy agenda to promote sustainable growth and prosperity across the region and, of course, we know that by doing so it will help the countries of ASEAN, but it will also help the United States.”
Secretary Clinton also pointed out that economic ties have only strengthened in recent years – US exports to ASEAN dramatically increased by 42% from 2009 to 2011, with particularly strong growth in chemicals, petroleum and coal products, and primary metal manufacturing. The United States also continues to have more than twice as much direct investment abroad in ASEAN than in China.
Myron Brilliant, the senior vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce, echoed Secretary Clinton’s statements. “When you look at what is going on in Europe and the United States, our companies will have to be in Asia and have to be in this region, where we have seen some significant growth rates,” he said.
Many US companies have made considerable investments in the region. Thai businesses have formed partnerships with US companies such as Google, MasterCard, and Coca-cola. President Obama has also recently announced that the US will be decreasing restrictions to allow more US firms to do business in Burma.
In the forum, General Electric signed an energy agreement to invest $3 million in generators for a rice-husk power plant in Cambodia. The rice-husk biomass power project will be the first of its kind in the ASEAN region. Regarding the project, Secretary Clinton said, “What a great idea for ASEAN countries, particularly in the Lower Mekong, to use rice husks to generate energy… this has got great potential.”
Chevron has also shown investment interest in Cambodia, particularly in regards to oil production. The US energy corporation has plans to start oil production at an offshore block in the Gulf of Thailand. “We continue to work with the Royal Government of Cambodia to obtain project approvals to achieve a final investment decision at the earliest possible date,” said Chevron spokesman Gareth Johnstone.
Economic relations with ASEAN continue to be extremely important for the United States. The region was the fourth largest export market for the US in 2011. US exports to ASEAN amounted to $76.5 billion, an increase of 10.4 percent from the year before. The average ASEAN consumer purchases twice as many American goods as the average Chinese consumer.
ASEAN leaders present at the forum included Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Burmese President Thein Sein, and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck. From the private sector, executives from notable US multinationals such as Google, Goldman Sachs, General Electric, Boeing, and MasterCard were in attendance.