Ambassador Hachigian’s Remarks at Breakfast with US-ASEAN Business Council

Thank you Ambassador Blake for the kind introduction.

I hit the jackpot when I got Ambassador Blake to share an embassy with.

Thanks to USABC, especially Marc Mealy, Martin Gil and Kathy Santillo for inviting me here today.

Last week, I got a message from my assistant that Alex Feldman called. I looked at the clock and it was 1:00 am DC time. So I figured Alex must have called much earlier in the day and I’d wait until the next day to return the call. Just then my phone rang again and it was Alex, calling from DC at 1:30 in the morning, asking me to come to this breakfast. Of course, I had to say yes, I was so impressed with his dedication.

It doesn’t seem that long ago—in fact it really wasn’t that long ago—when I first met Alex and others at my debut public event as the U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN–the USABC anniversary dinner in Washington.

If any of you were there, you remember that Secretary Kerry gave a rousing speech about how committed the U.S. is to ASEAN. He talked about how the US businesses have more invested in the ASEAN region than any other country does—more than China, Japan and Korea combined. But he also made the point that American businesses are also quality investors—that you hire locally, train workers, and invest in communities.

In the years to come, I hope US investment in ASEAN grows further because there is lots of opportunity here. You know the basics: a region of over 600 million people, 65% under the age of 35, the world’s 3rd largest labor force. The consumer class in the ASEAN region is expected to double from 81 million households today to over 160 million by 2030 and, as a region, ASEAN has had the third fastest GDP growth in the world in the last decade, behind only China and India.

The region is also incredibly diverse, in terms of religion, language and economic development.  As a recent McKinsey report pointed out, the standard deviation in average incomes among ASEAN countries is more than seven times that of EU member states. But despite these differences, these nations have decided to bind themselves together, through ASEAN.

I believe deeply that a strong, integrated, central ASEAN is not only good for the people of Southeast Asia, but good for the U.S.

2015 is a big year for ASEAN when it will launch the Economic Community under Malaysia’s chairmanship. Next year, though, will not mark the end, but more like the end of the beginning of ASEAN integration.

ASEAN Member States have made significant strides, especially in terms of lowering tariffs on goods, but lots of barriers remain. What is hopeful from my point of view is that has been real progress already, there is a clear framework in place to tackle the remaining barriers, and there is a basic political expectation that ASEAN will keep moving forward.

My mission, the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, which President Obama established in 2010, supports ASEAN integration in a variety of ways. We have been helping to develop the ASEAN Single Window – which will expedite the electronic exchange of customs data– and help goods flow more freely. We are also helping to nurture ASEAN SMEs. I want to thank USABC for its cooperation and leadership on this program. I’m extremely grateful for your contributions.

The US-ASEAN Business Alliance for Competitive SMEs, is a public private partnership with USABC and USAID that has trained over 1,000 small business owners, including 600 women, in six ASEAN Member States. Plans are underway to launch an online training academy for SMEs in 2016.

We’ve also worked with the Commerce department, with input from the private sector, on harmonizing product standards across ASEAN. If you have other ideas on how the U.S. can promote this integration process, let me know. I’m all ears.

The AEC isn’t important just because of the economic growth and opportunities it will bring. ASEAN integration also benefits the United States strategically. The more unified and integrated ASEAN is, the more it can speak in one voice, the more ASEAN can play a key role in a geopolitically complex Asia-Pacific region.

I look forward to continuing our partnership. Thank you.