Was this page helpful?

Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the Indo-Pacific Business Development Mission


Thank you for that warm welcome. And a special thank you to the Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the entire Thai Government for hosting us here in Bangkok. You should be extremely proud of the job you have done executing multiple high-level summits at once.

And congratulations to Thailand for its successful chairmanship of ASEAN this year, and to rising in the World Bank “Ease of Doing Business” rankings. For those of you who don’t know, Thailand now sits at 27, just behind Germany and Austria. Thanks also to the groups that have come together to make this event possible, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council; the Thai Chamber of Commerce; and the Federation of Thai Industries.

And congratulations to the U.S. Government team that worked so hard with all of you on this important event.

It is wonderful to be here in Bangkok. We have much to discuss in our bilateral relationship: more than 1,000 business and government leaders from 28 countries in the Indo- Pacific and beyond registered for this event.

We also have 19 U.S. Ambassadors and Chiefs of Missions in attendance as well. I am joined here at the Forum today by leadership from eight U.S. departments and agencies integral to our efforts to deepen commercial ties.

At the other end of this fabulous facility — at the East Asia Summit — we also have our National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, and his team. I will be dividing my time between the two events.

We are all here today in Bangkok because we know that the Indo-Pacific is the single most consequential region for America’s future. President Trump has made U.S. engagement with the 35 countries of the Indo Pacific region a top priority of the U.S. Government. Recently, Prime Minister Modi joined President Trump in Houston for the hugely successful “Howdy Modi” event – a first. While President Trump was in Vietnam in 2017, he outlined a vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which all countries prosper as sovereign, independent states.

I just made an extensive trip to New Delhi, Bangalore, Singapore, Sydney, and Canberra. In the previous two years, I traveled to Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Vientienne. And I joined Vice President Pence in Tokyo where we initiated the Japan Economic Dialogue. I am headed from here to Jakarta and Hanoi. That is probably the most visits in a short time to the Indo Pacific Region ever for a Secretary of Commerce. And in my earlier private business life, I had businesses in Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and India.

On this trip, I am joined in Bangkok with 40 executives from American companies. Tomorrow, our trade mission will travel to Indonesia, and then to Vietnam later in the week to continue our efforts to increase trade and investment opportunities for American companies in these countries and the wider region.

The Trump Administration is extremely engaged and fully committed to this region for a simple reason: The United States is an Indo-Pacific Nation.

Two-way trade between the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific Region increased by almost 6 percent last year to a record of almost $2 trillion. This amount is larger than the economies of all but eight countries in the world. That two way-trade figure of $2 trillion far surpasses U.S. trade with Europe, at $1.5 trillion; U.S. trade with South and Central America, at $1.2 trillion; and U.S. trade with Africa, at $89 billion.

The trade between the United States and the Indo-Pacific strengthens and deepens our historic bonds, both commercially and culturally. Millions of people from the region live in the United States, and it is a growing community. For example, the U.S. Asian population grew by more than 70 percent between 2000 and 2018, to more than 22 million. And there were more than 555,000 Asian-American owned companies with paid employees in the U.S. generating almost $700 billion in revenue in 2016.

Many of these Asian-American firms have changed the trajectory of entire industries. And they have close ties with many companies in this region. Yet, they constitute only one aspect of our commercial engagement with this region.

The cumulative stock of foreign direct investment between the United States and the Indo-Pacific increased by 5.9 percent in 2018, to $1.6 trillion. The United States is the largest source of FDI in the Indo-Pacific Region, with a total investment at the end of last year valued at nearly $866 billion. That is far more than China’s foreign direct investment in the region, which was $504 billion in 2017, of which $381 billion went to Hong Kong, and only $123 billion to the rest of the region.

According to FDI Markets, the number of U.S.-announced greenfield projects in the Indo-Pacific Region rose by 23 percent last year, to 1,022. ASEAN is the number-one U.S. investment destination in the Indo-Pacific for American companies. With a cumulative $271 billion invested, there is $29 billion more U.S. FDI in ASEAN than in China and Japan combined. That’s in addition to our immense trade in goods and services with ASEAN, which reached $334 billion last year.

A recent FDI example was Walmart’s 77 percent stake in FlipKart for $16 billion, the largest direct investment in India’s history. Another was Las Vegas Sands’ $3.3 billion plan in Singapore for a new 15,000 seat entertainment arena and a 1,000-suite hotel.

Meanwhile, FDI from the Indo-Pacific Region into the United States was valued at an amazing $785 billion. Indian steel producer JSW recently invested $500 million in a facility in Mingo Junction, Ohio. Japanese and Korean companies have invested nearly $54 billion in the U.S. auto industry through the end of 2018. And I hear there is another big announcement that will be made today at this event. In short, the United States and the Indo-Pacific Region are inseparable, partially thanks to this deep financial commitment, and the vast amounts of daily individual interactions and relationships.

The United States is fully committed to the region’s prospects, its prosperity, and to preserving its free and open regional order. The United States is also the largest donor of foreign assistance in the Indo-Pacific Region, contributing $2 trillion in constant dollars since the end of World War II.

Since the start of the Trump Administration, the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development have provided the region with more than $4.5 billion in foreign assistance. The U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) also has been active in the region. This past June, it signed a $350 million compact with Mongolia and, in April, it finalized a $480 million compact with Sri Lanka. In addition, MCC is currently developing compacts with Timor-Leste, and Indonesia; and it has initiated a Threshold Program with the Solomon Islands to analyze the constraints to its economic growth.

Since July 2018, the Commerce Department has worked with 9,000 U.S. companies, facilitating $7.65 billion in U.S. exports to Indo-Pacific countries. Of this, $3.1 billion was for government tenders won by U.S. firms. My department has also worked directly with more than 2,500 Indo-Pacific companies seeking to invest in the United States. Those investments in the U.S. economy have totaled more than $18 billion.

The Commerce Department is currently supporting the U.S. private sector in 412 active deals with Indo-Pacific governments, valued at potentially $631 billion. There are other international business development programs being run by U.S. Government agencies.

The Energy program has mobilized $1.5 billion in public and private investment across 11 renewable energy projects in Indonesia. The U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership, announced by Vice President Pence in Singapore in 2018, is spurring American investment in the region’s digital infrastructure. The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation — created by the BUILD Act of 2018 — has $60 billion in development financing to attract private-sector investment in emerging markets.

Last May, Congress confirmed a full board for the U.S. Export-Import Bank, restoring the private-sector’s access to nearly $40 billion in the pipeline for U.S. export deals. Reauthorization of EXIM is currently pending in Congress. We are hopeful that it will pass since the President supports the bank’s essential mission of supporting U.S. exports and jobs. And I might note, EXIM Bank President Kimberly Reed is attending this forum.

Later in the conference, OPIC Executive Vice President David Bohigian will describe an exciting new initiative called the Blue Dot Network. It is a multilateral approach to fostering sustainable economic growth by promoting excellence in infrastructure development and supporting alternatives to predatory lending.

Meanwhile, we continue to negotiate trade deals with countries in this region. In September 2018, we signed the renegotiated Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. And last month, the United States and Japan signed two agreements: The U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement; and the U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement.

Under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, Japan will eliminate or reduce tariffs on approximately $7.2 billion in U.S. agricultural exports. More than 90 percent of U.S. agricultural imports into Japan will be duty-free or have preferential tariff access.

The U.S.-Japan Digital Trade Agreement ensures unrestricted data transfers across borders. It guarantees consumer privacy protections; promotes common principles to address cybersecurity challenges; and supports effective use of encryption technologies. This trade pact should lead to a large increase in the $40 billion worth of present digital trade between the United States and Japan.

We are also engaged in a long-overdue assessment of our trade relationship with China. We are very far along with Phase One.

At the inaugural Indo-Pacific Business Forum in July 2018, I joined U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others in new initiatives for private-sector investment in the region’s infrastructure, energy markets, and the digital economy. There have been positive advances with all three of these initiatives.

Finally, a new Transaction Advisory Fund under the Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network helps partners assess the financial and environmental impacts of potential projects.

Today, we are releasing a report detailing these and other initiatives that the United States is implementing in the Indo-Pacific Region with bipartisan support from Congress.

The longstanding U.S. commitment to the region’s development programs and our open markets for exports, helped millions of people climb out of poverty. We will continue to champion the values that have served the Indo-Pacific so well: respect for the sovereignty of all nations; the peaceful resolution of disputes; an open commercial environment with transparent agreements that encourage investment and connectivity; and adherence to international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight.

ASEAN took an important step in assuring these values with the June 2019 release of its “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.” We see a clear convergence between the principles enshrined in ASEAN’s Outlook — and our own Indo-Pacific Strategy.

As President Trump said in November 2017: “We have been friends, partners, and allies in the Indo-Pacific for a long, long time, and we will be friends, partners, and allies for a long time to come.” This is true of our governments, our companies, and the tens of thousands of individuals who travel back and forth on trans-Pacific flights, visiting customers, suppliers, friends, and family.

At this Business Forum, we continue that tradition. We are making connections that will benefit future generations and bind all of our countries in a bright, prosperous, and hopeful future.

Thank you, and my best to all of you in achieving success during this week’s Forum, and long beyond.