U.S.-ASEAN Connect is a new U.S. government initiative, announced by President Obama at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands, CA, that will strengthen the United States economic engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Member States (AMS). Strong economic ties are at the core of the United States and ASEAN’s decades-long partnership. ASEAN countries collectively comprise the fourth-largest trading partner for the United States. Two-way trade in goods and services has tripled since the 1990s, topping $254 billion in 2014. U.S. businesses have been the largest cumulative source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN and ASEAN countries are increasing their investment in the United States. U.S. goods and services exports to ASEAN supported over 500,000 American jobs in 2014.
Our engagement under U.S.-ASEAN Connect will build on our existing efforts to support ASEAN’s economic integration, because a more integrated ASEAN will strengthen a rules-based and open economic order in the region. Organized around four pillars, the initiative will provide strategic focus to ongoing and future U.S. government activities in the region.
U.S. – ASEAN Connect has four organizing pillars:
Business Connect supports increased commercial engagement between U.S. and ASEAN businesses in a variety of regionally important sectors, including ICT and infrastructure. Business Connect will assist ASEAN as it implements measures to facilitate greater trade and economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community and offer coordinated, proactive support for U.S. businesses. Business Connect will also bring U.S. and ASEAN businesses together to capitalize on opportunities created through the ASEAN Economic Community. It will continue to advance efforts including the US-ASEAN Air Transport Working Group Work Plan, and U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) project preparation programs.
Energy Connect assists in the development of power sectors in ASEAN built around sustainable, efficient, and innovative technologies. It will support the connectivity, clean energy and energy security goals of the ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2015 – 2025 and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. U.S. programs continuing under Energy Connect include the U.S.-ASEAN Energy Cooperation Work Plan, the U.S.-Asia Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership, the Asia Pacific Clean Energy Program, and USTDA clean energy and grid modernization/connectivity project preparation programs.
Innovation Connect supports Southeast Asia’s emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem through policy support and direct engagement with entrepreneurs. Technical assistance under Innovation Connect will include the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Innovation Challenges and economic programs, the Global Entrepreneurship Program, Innovation Roadshows, and support for the ASEAN Science Prize for Women.
Policy Connect focuses on supporting the ASEAN countries in creating a policy environment conducive to trade and investment, digitally enabled innovation, and sustainable and equitable economic growth, which includes providing capacity building, and technical support to member states. Programs under Policy Connect include the U.S.-ASEAN Trade and Investment Framework Arrangement work plan initiatives, such as ACTI SME initiatives, ASEAN Single Window support, Standards Cooperation, and a new series of U.S.-ASEAN Trade Workshops. Policy Connect programs will also focus on broader economic policy engagement, such as the U.S.-ASEAN ICT Workplan and discussions on aviation issues.
To support the implementation of U.S.-ASEAN Connect, the U.S. government is establishing a network of three Connect Centers (Centers) – in Jakarta, Singapore, and Bangkok. The Centers are responsible for focusing and coordinating U.S. government resources on growing our economic engagement with ASEAN institutions, ASEAN Member States, the U.S. private sector, multilateral development banks, and other regional stakeholders. This engagement will allow for faster and easier access to public information and U.S. government resources (e.g. capacity building and technical assistance). The Jakarta center will be a part of the U.S. Mission to ASEAN and will lead in facilitating U.S. engagement with the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN sectoral bodies, and Missions to ASEAN to help achieve our shared goal of strengthening ASEAN as an organization and to support ASEAN’s goal of centrality in the regional architecture. The Singapore center, supported by the Department of Commerce’s ASEAN regional office, will serve to channel engagement in the financial hub of ASEAN, which is home to the World Bank Infrastructure and Urban Development Hub, and 3,600 U.S. companies. The regional offices of OPIC, USTDA, and USAID, as well as the local Commercial Service office, will constitute the Bangkok center, which will focus on project preparation, development assistance, business advocacy, and investment support in the region.