Telephonic press briefing with US Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON: Ambassador Katherine Tai, United States Trade Representative has said that Thank you so much and hello from Cambodia.  It is really great to be here in Siem Reap for the annual ASEAN Economic Ministers-USTR Consultations.  As many of you know, last year’s consultations were held virtually, so it is especially wonderful to be here in person representing the United States and the Biden administration.

My trip to Cambodia comes as we are seeing unprecedented cooperation between the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  ASEAN represents the fourth-largest market in the world.  U.S. goods and services trade with ASEAN totaled nearly $442 billion in 2021, a 22 percent increase compared to the previous year.  In May of this year, President Biden hosted ASEAN leaders in Washington, D.C., for a special summit – a historic gathering to reaffirm our commitment to Southeast Asia and its people.  As the President noted during the summit, the United States’ relationship with ASEAN countries will hold significant importance not just today but over the next half century and beyond.

And that is why our administration announced $150 million in initiatives to deepen U.S.-ASEAN relations, including through clean energy infrastructure investments, upskilling programs, private sector grants, and educational and cultural exchanges.  This investment builds on the $102 million investment the President announced at the annual U.S.-ASEAN Summit in October 2021 to enhance cooperation on health, climate science, trade facilitation, and more.

And that brings us to today.  Later this afternoon, I will lead the U.S. delegation in our annual ASEAN Economic Ministers-USTR Consultations.  We will hear from ASEAN members as well as private sector representatives and stakeholders on how our trade agenda can support investments and economic growth throughout the region.  We have strengthened the open line of dialogue with the ASEAN since President Biden (inaudible).

This has only grown more important since the pandemic, and it is vital that we provide the resources and assistance to help our business owners compete and succeed.  Earlier this year we affirmed the importance of labor standards and environmental protections to all of our peoples and pledged to continue cooperating under the ASEAN-United States Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement.  And this spring we concluded the second U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Labor Dialogue in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Labor.  This dialogue brought together labor and trade officials to discuss the importance of upholding workers’ rights through trade agreements and how our agenda can support workforce development in the digital economy.  These accomplishments are part of the Biden administration’s effort to create a global race to the top in trade that upholds the rights of workers, protects the planet, and creates an increase in prosperity for all.

I’m looking forward to more robust conversations with our ASEAN partners today and to continue this important strategic engagement in the months and years to come.  Thank you and I’m happy to take a few questions.

We have all been thinking a lot about supply chains these past couple years, haven’t we?  I think it is a fact that in a globalized economy, the policies that come out from each of our countries impact the supply chains that we have between us.  And that’s why the engagement that we are bringing through the ASEAN-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement consultations, which we’ll be having later today, are so important.

In our consultations we are focusing on enhancing our cooperation and our work together on trade facilitation, on trade and labor, trade and environment, and also digital trade.  These engagements provide us with really important opportunities to build back together supply chains that are more resilient and sustainable and are focused on fostering an increase in prosperity as we are all building our economies out of the disruptions that we’ve experienced so much over the past couple of years because of COVID and other factors.

First, that we will provide a $40 million investment to mobilize $2 billion in blended financing for clean energy infrastructure in Southeast Asia.  This will increase regional energy trade and accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies.

Second, the U.S. Department of Transportation will launch air, ground, and maritime transportation programs to promote sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

And third, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency will launch new programs to catalyze over $13 billion in financing for clean energy projects to advance ASEAN’s net-zero goals.  They are also facilitating $1 billion in public and private financing for digital infrastructure across the region.

These programs and initiatives are being carried out across the federal government.  I’ll defer to the lead agencies for specific updates on those programs, but as you can see, we are using a whole-of-government approach to strengthen and deepen our bonds to ASEAN and the region.

While China is not in Southeast Asia, I know that China is an important part of the world economy really and also the economy in this region.  Let me just address part of your question where you referenced punitive actions against China and a trade war.  Let me be very, very clear: These actions that we have taken with respect to China and specifically the tariffs, which get a lot of attention, they are not punitive in nature.  The United States is not punishing China with tariffs, and I think that is a really important point to make because tariffs are merely a trade tool.  They can be used in lots of different ways.  In some contexts they are used as sanctions.  These are not sanctioning tariffs.  The tariffs that were put down in 2018 were really rebalancing tariffs; they are tariffs to try to level the playing field to overcome unfairness that we have seen and the impacts on the U.S. economy.  So that is a legal fact, but that is also a fact with respect to policy.

In terms of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, specifically since I am the U.S. Trade Representative, let me address our Indo-Pacific economic engagement, whether it is through our consultations with the ASEAN countries here or in the EAS Economic Ministers’ Meeting that took place yesterday that I came here to participate in or through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework exercises that we are engaging in.  All of those engagements are about focusing on the economies here in the Indo-Pacific because these are important relationships, and I know that in speaking to my counterparts in Beijing that they do value these relationships too, and Beijing is also engaged economically and more broadly in this region.  And I think that that just indicates how important this region is and how focused these economies and the world are in helping to unlock the potential here.