Indo-Pacific Business Forum Highlights

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hosts Indo-Pacific Business Forum 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted three cabinet secretaries, five agency heads, 15 ambassadors, 20 embassies and 150 business leaders at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday in Washington.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry unveiled several new initiatives while outlining the Trump Administration’s Indo-Pacific vision.

Please find highlights from the day’s speeches and discussions in the sections below.  The webcast of the entire Forum is accessible here.

A compilation of media coverage is available on the forum, please see the recommended reading section.  

Remarks from U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue

In his welcoming speech, Mr. Donohue highlighted the need for committing to openness, promoting American principles of free enterprise, and avoiding past mistakes of American protectionism.  Below are a few highlights from Mr. Donohue’s speech: 

  • An Historic Opportunity: Trade with and investment in this region is not just a historic opportunity—it is a requirement for any nation that hopes to compete and lead in the world economy. 
  • We need to be in the game:  Trade agreements—including the CP TPP—are moving forward without the U.S. and the U.S. only has 3 free trade agreements in the region.
  • Principles to govern engagement:  Free enterprise, innovation, and rule of law are bedrock American principles that ought to govern our engagement.
  • Avoid self-harm in Challenging China:  Unilateral actions, without the support of our allies, only weaken our own negotiating position.

Thomas J. Donohue’s full remarks can be read here

Remarks from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a keynote speech on the Indo-Pacific strategy.  He announced $113 million in new U.S. initiatives to support the digital economy, energy, and infrastructure in the region. The Secretary noted that the initial investment should be seen as a “down payment” and seeks to expand each initiative. While we look forward to learning more details of each program, brief overviews of the announcements are as follows:  

  • Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership: Through the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership, the United States will improve partner countries’ digital connectivity and expand opportunities for U.S. technology exports. In addition to establishing public-private partnerships to build digital infrastructure, this initiative will deploy technical assistance to improve partner countries’ regulatory policies and cybersecurity.
  • Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network: The Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network is a whole-of-government U.S. effort to support productive infrastructure investment. A new interagency body, led by the National Economic Council, will coordinate U.S. government efforts to assess projects, direct development finance, and provide technical assistance to partner countries. The United States will set up a new Indo-Pacific Transaction Advisory Fund to help partners access private legal support for contract negotiations.
  • Asia EDGE – Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy: Asia EDGE will strengthen energy security and promote energy access across the Indo-Pacific. The initiative will grow foreign energy markets and boost U.S. energy exports by expanding public-private partnerships, fostering business-to-business connections, and helping partner governments set market-based energy policies. Asia EDGE will also catalyze private capital by partnering with firms and international financial institutions on pooled finance, insurance and risk mitigation, commercial advocacy, and project development.
  • Support for Regional Institutions: Secretary Pompeo also announced strengthened support for important regional institutions in the Indo-Pacific, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and U.S.-ASEAN Connect, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Lower Mekong Initiative, along with a first-ever contribution to the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Recap of Moderated Conversation with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

Secretary Ross participated in a moderated discussion on the commercial opportunities in the Indo-Pacific with Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce and current Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group. Announcements and key takeaways are as follows: 

  • Secretary Ross noted that the Commerce Department will be expanding its Digital Attache program in the region, and additionally will post more Foreign Commercial Service Officers to the region. Further, Secretary Ross announced a joint pilot program between the Department of Commerce and the Department of State aimed at increasing engagement with the business community in the region. The Chamber will seek further information on the priority markets, time table, and additional staffing resources.
  • Secretary Ross signaled that the administration would continue with an aggressive strategy on China, citing the U.S.’s currently strong economy as nimble enough to withstand any pain from an escalating trade war.  Ross compared the U.S.’s actions to a diet – “It's no fun in the beginning.  It's maybe a little bit painful.  But at the end of the day you're kind of happy with the end result."
  • Secretary Ross suggested that ultimately the trade war would end via negotiation, conceding that the U.S. would likely not get all that it is demanding.  However, he said he thinks it is likely that the U.S. will get a significant amount of concessions given that it is not in either country’s benefit for the trade war to continue for a long duration.
  • Secretary Ross announced that India will be granted Strategic Trade Authorization (STA-1), easing exports of high technology products to India. According to the Secretary, “STA-1 provides India with greater supply chain efficiency, both for defense, and for other high-tech products” and grants India the same authorization as NATO allies, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.  

Recap of Conversation with Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and The Carlyle Group Co-Founder and Co-CEO David M. Rubenstein

Secretary Perry provided introductory remarks on the United States energy policy in the Indo-Pacific before moving into an armchair discussion on the topic with David Rubenstein. Highlights of the remarks and discussion are below: 

  • Secretary Perry emphasized the United States as a global energy leader positioned to help Indo-Pacific countries meet their needs for conventional and new, lower-emission energy.  He reinforced U.S. commitment to strengthen energy security, infrastructure, energy access, and energy commerce through the Asia EDGE initiative.  
  • Secretary Perry affirmed potential of U.S. energy and energy-related exports to the Indo-Pacific – highlighting crude oil and natural gas as critical components of the energy strategy. 
  • Secretary Perry spoke of the importance of existing and new energy partnerships in the region to connect our respective private sectors, promote regional infrastructure, and open new energy markets.  
  • Secretary Perry noted U.S. commitment to strengthening nuclear energy cooperation in region and commercial opportunities in decommissioning and small modular reactors. 

Additional Highlights, Remarks, and Announcements:

  • The governments of the U.S., Japan, and Australia announced a trilateral partnership for Indo-Pacific infrastructure investment. According to OPIC President and CEO Ray Washburne—who participated in the forum—“the United States, Japan, and Australia have formed a trilateral partnership to mobilise investment in projects that drive economic growth, create opportunities, and foster a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.  We share the belief that good investments stem from transparency, open competition, sustainability, adhering to robust global standards, employing the local workforce, and avoiding unsustainable debt burdens.” A full press-release can be found here, and the Chamber will continue to monitor developments and opportunity for U.S. industry participation. 
  • Following Secretary Pompeo’s commitment from the Administration to fully operationalize the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Jeffrey Gerrish, Acting President and Chairman of the bank provided an overview of the bank’s engagement in the Indo-Pacific. Full remarks are available here.
  • USAID Administrator Mark Green unveiled a new look for the agency and shared his vision for the future of the agency and its role in advancing American leadership in the region. Administrator Green’s full remarks are available here.
  • The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) announced cooperation with Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) on the Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Value Chain and Natural Gas Cooperation Training Program. The full press release of the announcement can be found here.
  • USTDA signed a grant agreement with India’s IL&FS Energy Development Company Limited. The grant funds technical assistance (provided by Black & Veatch) to advance a planned one-thousand megawatt renewable power and energy storage project in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The press release can be found here.
  • In a panel moderated by U.S.-India Business Council President Nisha Biswal, Ambassadors and representatives from India, Singapore and Indonesia were unified in their positive and welcoming message regarding the investment in the Indo-Pacific.  However, they underscored the need for more regional engagement through partnerships and multilateral approaches. 
  • In an armchair discussion with Cognizant Executive Vice President Matthew Friedrich, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) opened his remarks by emphasizing that he has never been more hopeful, optimistic and bullish about the Indo-Pacific region, with specific confidence around the U.S.-India relationship.  He noted that both the executive and congressional branches of the U.S. government are aligned and promoting improved economic and geopolitical bonds, based on shared interests, values, building trust, and the prominence of the Indian-American community.  The Senator highlighted the defense relationship, where the Senate passed bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation providing India an exemptions from the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).  Looking forward, he underscored his support for a U.S.-India Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).  The Senator also emphasized the growing energy relationship that has great potential for economic growth and energy security.     

Press Coverage and Recommended Readings: 

  • Ahead of Asia Trip, Business Lobby Gives Pompeo an Earful on Trade War (New York Times
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: U.S. to ‘Deepen Engagement’ in Asia (Wall Street Journal)
  • U.S. will give Indo-Pacific nations $25M for tech and cyber investments (POLITICO  Morning Cybersecurity)
  • State Dept. announces $113 million in initiatives in Asia (Associated Press)
  • Ross Likens U.S.-China Trade Fight to ‘Painful’ Start of a Diet (Bloomberg)
  • Pompeo announces new US investments in Indo-Pacific region (CNN)
  • Pompeo Knocks China in Pitching U.S. Interests in Southeast Asia (Bloomberg)
  • The Trump administration offers Asia an alternative to Chinese investment (Washington Post)