To US, Asean Deal at APEC Eclipses Summit

Although pleased with the Asean Summit, US businesses are more thrilled with an agreement from an earlier conference that they say will bind the region and the world’s largest economy even tighter, officials from the US-Asean Business Council said.

“We did not see any real surprises out of the [summit]. From a US business perspective, the most significant announcement was not at the summit, but at the APEC meetings in Mexico,” council Director of Regional Affairs John Goyer wrote in an e-mail last week.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference late last month, US President George W Bush announced the “Enterprise for Asean Initiative,” which business council President Ernest Bower hailed as “a big down payment on our future.”

The program sets up a system for working out bilateral trade agreements for the US and Asean countries, as long as the nations are members of the World Trade Organization and “are committed to market liberalization and market-oriented reform,” according to a statement from the business council.

The US-Asean business council is a huge lobbying group, whose members include such US giants as General Electric and Lock­heed Martin.

About 20 percent of Asean’s exports already head to the US—by far the largest percentage—and last year the US sent $44 billion in exports to the region, according to the statement.

The US invests $53 billion per year in Asean, which is more than five times as much direct investment as in China, the release added.

Although the direct beneficiaries of the enterprise initiative will certainly be Asean’s wealthiest members, the US has also promised to help develop and “integrate” Asean’s poorest and newest members, including Laos,  Cambodia and Vietnam.

“Cambodia could benefit tremendously from this,” Goyer wrote.

And although much of the focus—and publicity—of last week’s Asean Summit was over terrorism, US businesses are already playing past that issue, Goyer added.

“There are real dangers, but they are isolated and do not accurately reflect the business environment in the region,” Goyer said.


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