US and ASEAN: Partners in prosperity

US AseanThe United States (US) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have a strong interest in creating a positive future together, as both share the same economic principles of development and prosperity for all, and believe in the potential of innovative technology that can change the world.

Ziad Haider, special representative for commercial and business affairs at the US Department of State, introduced US’ economic policies and strategies for ASEAN during his talk at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 8 November 2016. He also discussed how this regional engagement fits with the idea of rebalancing Asia as well as the significance of the region because of its economic growth and geopolitical importance.

There are five key objectives of the US in this region, he said. These are strengthening security with existing allies such as Singapore; engaging with emerging powers such as China; ensuring a regional architecture through institutions such as ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); securing economic peace through trade and investment; and promoting democracy and human rights.

Strengthening ties through US-ASEAN Connect

The commitment to such a partnership is evidenced by President Barack Obama’s eight visits to the region during his term, the US Mission to ASEAN and the US-ASEAN Connect framework, said Haider.

The US-ASEAN Connect framework was announced in February to allow US diplomats to have better communication channels in the region, thus demonstrating the pivot towards ASEAN.

The framework also provides a strategic focus for US economic partnership with ASEAN under four pillars: Business Connect, Energy Connect, Innovation Connect and Policy Connect, said Haider.

  • Policy Connect would enable a smoother customs process, trade and flow of goods, as well as see training programmes organised across ASEAN.
  • Business Connect places importance on small and medium-sized agribusinesses and entrepreneurs, skill training and capital investment, promoting better business.
  • Energy Connect helps develop ASEAN’s power sector using sustainable, efficient, and innovative technologies.
  • Innovation Connect works on connecting entrepreneurs within ASEAN and with the US.

Identifying the hallmarks of US engagement in ASEAN

ASEAN showcases the strength of having trade, investment, development and connectivity all in one region, making it a critical partner for the US. It is also the fourth largest export market for the US, which is why trade and commerce plays an integral role in the US’ foreign engagement.

In addition, the importance of ASEAN lies in its young population and economic dynamism, aided by the fact that it is home to some of the world’s most important shipping routes, such as the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

Haider was positive about the future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), saying that the US has been making concerted efforts to bring it into force, and judgements about it should be reserved until the end of Obama’s administration.

He highlighted that passing the TPP will bring 18,000 tax cuts for employment-generating exporters in the US in the form of tariff reductions. Apart from that, the TPP will also set the standards in the areas of labour, environment and intellectual property, among others.

On the investment side, Haider pointed out that the US has invested US$226 billion in ASEAN, an amount that quantifies the importance of this engagement. As for qualitative investment, significant US companies have also invested in training local talents in many ASEAN countries, adding to the skill and knowledge of the labour market in this region.

In terms of development, the US has been a pillar of support during natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. Humanitarian assistance has been at the forefront of the US’ agenda in the region, said Haider.

As trade, investment, development and connectivity remain the main priorities of the US in ASEAN, the core of the country’s future presence in this region shall be seen in all these domains, not merely through aircraft carriers, he added.


This article is written as an event coverage piece for the America and ASEAN: Partners in Prosperity dialogue session which took place at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy on 8 November 2016. Mariyam Raza Haider, a MPP student at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, contributed to the development of the article.