State’s Fernandez Says U.S. Companies Can Help Southeast Asia

Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez’s visit to Southeast Asia included stops in the Philippines, Burma (above, shaking hands with Win Aung), Singapore and Thailand.
Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez’s visit to Southeast Asia included stops in the Philippines, Burma (above, shaking hands with Win Aung), Singapore and Thailand.

By Stephen Kaufman,
IIP Staff Writer

Washington,
March 11,  2013

During his two-week visit to Southeast Asia, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose Fernandez discussed ways U.S. private investment can help improve areas such as infrastructure and agricultural reform, and talked about ways to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a regional free-trade agreement.

Speaking March 8 in Washington following his February 21–March 1 trip, Fernandez told reporters he was “struck by how vibrant the trade and investment relationship between the U.S. and Southeast Asia was, and also the amount of good will that we got from all sorts of government officials, as well as companies.”

U.S. companies can take advantage of diaspora communities inside the United States to help build their overseas relationships, Fernandez said, and the presence of U.S. companies in Southeast Asia can promote corporate social responsibility that will help their employees and the local communities where they operate.

For developing countries in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, Fernandez said, there is a high priority on developing infrastructure to help create the conditions for economic growth, and during his trip he outlined ways U.S. companies can play a positive role.

“We felt that improving infrastructure in areas such as electricity, communications and roads would provide opportunities for U.S. companies to do business as well as to do some good. And we also felt that this was a strategic imperative for our approach to the region, because infrastructure was going to be one of the main topics of discussion in the decades to come,” he said.

He said he also discussed how agricultural technology can help meet the growing demand for food as the world population increases from 7 billion people to 9 billion by 2050.

Through post-harvest technologies, developing countries can shorten the amount of time it takes for food to travel from farms to consumers. Currently, as much as 30 percent to 50 percent of their produce is lost on its way to markets. With improved technology and a shorter amount of time, “we will make a huge improvement in food security, and we will have done it without having to grow an additional crop,” Fernandez said.

Throughout his trip, which took him to the Philippines, Burma, Thailand and Singapore, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a topic of discussion. Fernandez said the Obama administration wants the TPP “to be a high-standard, 21st-century agreement.”

On March 4, the 16th round of negotiations on the comprehensive trade agreement opened in Singapore, bringing 600 delegates from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

“It’s our intention … to complete that agreement by this year,” Fernandez said. There are 11 member countries, but membership is “open to anybody who’s willing to sign on to what we call 21st-century high standards, comprehensive standards,” he said.

“Ultimately, our hope is that there will be more countries that will join, and that ultimately this could very well become sort of the Free Trade of the Asia Pacific agreement,” he said.

When the TPP is completed, it will involve about 30 percent of the world’s trade. Fernandez said the United States and European Union’s proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership would represent an additional 25 percent to 30 percent of free trade in the global economy, which “will change the trade dynamics in the world.”