Risch and Cantwell encourage POTUS to pursue a stronger Indo-Pacific strategy

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May 19, 2022

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), chair of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today sent today a letter to President Biden asking he is pursuing a stronger economic and trade agenda in the Indo-Pacific ahead of his visit to Asia.

“We write to urge you to pursue a stronger economic and trade agenda in the Indo-Pacific,” wrote the senators. “As you head into the region, your engagements provide a key opportunity to show the entire region that U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy prioritizes economic and commercial engagement. growing peaceful communities is crucial for national growth, including the resilience of our supply chain, prosperity in the region and the promotion of common interests.

“The United States – led by our entrepreneurial private sector – is already deeply engaged in Indo-Pacific economies,” say the senators. “For example, the combined nations of ASEAN together constitute the 4th largest market for US exports, supporting 625,000 jobs, and the investment position of US businesses in ASEAN is $338 billion. American companies are creating jobs both in the Indo-Pacific and here at home, engaging in significant relief efforts, advancing corporate social responsibility programs, and much more.

“The economic engagement of the United States is sometimes underestimated, especially given China’s efforts to portray itself as the primary and sometimes exclusive economic partner of the Indo-Pacific,” say the senators. “China’s predatory investment in the region is indeed extremely concerning.”

“We respectfully suggest that the coming year provides ample opportunity to demonstrate your plans for real and concrete economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific,” concluded the senators. “With this in mind, we offer the following recommendations and request consultation between our offices and the executive branch on the extent to which the administration is developing plans to implement these measures.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to pursue a stronger economic and trade agenda in the Indo-Pacific. As you head into the region, your engagements provide a key opportunity to show the entire region that America’s Indo-Pacific strategy prioritizes economic and trade engagement. Strengthening our ties with growing Indo-Pacific economies is crucial for national growth, including the resilience of our supply chain, prosperity in the region and the promotion of common interests.

The United States – led by our entrepreneurial private sector – is already deeply engaged in Indo-Pacific economies. For example, the combined nations of ASEAN together constitute the 4th largest market for US exports, supporting 625,000 jobs, and the investment position of US businesses in ASEAN is $338 billion. American companies are creating jobs both in the Indo-Pacific and at home, engaging in significant relief efforts, advancing corporate social responsibility programs, and much more.

The economic commitment of the United States is sometimes underestimated, especially given China’s efforts to portray itself as the main and sometimes exclusive economic partner of the Indo-Pacific. China’s predatory investment in the region is indeed extremely worrying. However, it is important to remember that Japan, the United States and the European Union still invest much more in ASEAN than China. And that the United States has $832 million in two-way trade with Pacific island countries, in addition to the strong ties between Australia and New Zealand.

Yet the US administrations on both sides could do much better by pursuing a cohesive and robust Indo-Pacific agenda on trade and economic issues. For example, the administration should not refuse to pursue additional market access within the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Strong trade agreements constitute the fundamental architecture of Indo-Pacific regional economic cooperation. We suggest that the administration pursue a carefully constructed ambitious IPEF to build on the gains already made and further anchor US competitiveness in the region. Our allies and partners have already expressed concern over the absence of a compelling US-led economic agenda in the recently released Indo-Pacific Strategy. Along the same lines, it is important that the budget reflects the need for greater economic engagement.

We respectfully suggest that the coming year provides ample opportunity to demonstrate your plans for real and concrete economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific. With this in mind, we offer the following recommendations and request consultation between our offices and the executive branch on the extent to which the administration is developing plans to implement these measures.

  • Pursue trade initiatives, including strong trade agreements. Deepening our commercial relationship through meaningful agreements is an economic and strategic imperative, and what all of our partners expect of the United States. Engagement on the trade front will provide tangible incentives for our partners to work with us in other key areas, including those outlined in the IPEF. Countries will be less willing to support us in strengthening market rules governing international trade if we do not include meaningful market access. For more flexibility, it might be useful to enter into bilateral trade agreements. However, without U.S. participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) or another regional trade alternative, our allies in the region will not be able to delay China’s bid to join the CPTPP any longer. term. A CPTPP with China and without the United States would be a massive political failure with consequences for decades to come.
  • Expand economic assistance initiatives in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific Islands. Key areas of technical assistance should include improving revenue collection, streamlining customs transparency and efficiency, and combating revenue leakage; improving regulatory management; improving procurement processes, including facilitating transparency in bidding, bidding and negotiating contacts; strengthen budget management and control; and strengthening the management of important economic sectors, in particular energy, the digital economy and infrastructure.
  • Announce concrete initiatives and incentives on supply chains. Congress and the executive branch should work together to provide real incentives for U.S. companies to diversify critical supply chains, especially with partner nations in Southeast Asia. We must also work with partner governments to improve the efficiency of their supply chains in areas such as healthcare and technology, and improve supply chain resilience through capacity building in economies. of our business partners.
  • Increase cooperation with Japan, ROK, Australia, UK and Europe on collaborative investments in strategic projects in the region. The United States and its allies and partners have had some success in cooperating on investment projects, such as the construction of an undersea cable to Palau and investments in the electrification of Papua New Guinea. . It is essential that we intensify these efforts. In pursuing cooperation with these countries, we should consider partnerships that also include key companies and enterprises in the beneficiary countries. Working together in these markets is also an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to advancing economic engagement with partners for whom the challenges of law enforcement, labor and the environment are not as pronounced.
  • Advance an energy strategy that meets the energy and economic needs of Indo-Pacific partners and U.S. producers and manufacturers. The United States should support and collaborate with the Indo-Pacific region on all types of clean energy. We should advocate for all of the above energy policy, maximizing engagement and exports of US energy solutions that take into account each country’s current energy needs.

The growing trade architecture in the Indo-Pacific region and partner interest in expanding economic ties all present tremendous opportunities for the United States. We must seize them with ambition and vision, and quickly.

We appreciate your attention to this important issue and look forward to consulting with you on the recommendations outlined above.

Sincerely,

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