19 Apr, 2014

America’s Economic Future in the Asia-Pacific

Four years before the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, an American ship named the “Empress of China” set sail from New York City to Canton, China. It was the first U.S. ship to trade with China. 15 months later, the ship returned with valuable cargo – tea, silk, and porcelain – and provided its investors with a 25 percent return. The United States has been trading with and engaged in the Asia-Pacific region ever since.

The United States is and will always be a Pacific nation. But in the first decade of this century – as we fought two costly wars – our diplomatic, economic, and strategic resources were over-invested in certain regions of the world and under-invested in others. During the early days of his Administration, President Obama made a deliberate and strategic decision to correct this imbalance and to deepen U.S. engagement with the world’s fastest growing region – the Asia-Pacific.

The Administration’s rebalance is focused on four areas: enhancing security, expanding prosperity, fostering democratic values, and advancing human dignity. The Commerce Department is focused on “expanding prosperity,” the economic dimension of the rebalance. This week in a speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, I highlighted what that rebalance entails: deepening our trade and investment ties with existing partners, helping emerging partners as they build their infrastructure, and supporting a regional economic architecture that includes the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Already, the Asia-Pacific has become an enormous market for American products and a source of good jobs here at home. In 2013, exports to the region supported more than 3 million U.S. jobs. Also, new and important trends are emerging. For example, inbound investment from Asia to the United States now supports more than 970,000 U.S. jobs.

One of my core missions as Secretary is to help American businesses navigate new markets, reach new customers, and develop new opportunities in existing markets. To support that, I announced today that I will be making my third trip as Secretary to the region. I will travel to Vietnam, the Philippines, and Burma in June with a delegation of CEOs and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

But more important than my own travel is the day-to-day work of the Commerce Department’s Foreign Commercial Service. Each day, this dynamic team helps American companies break into overseas markets, expand, and find new customers abroad. The largest footprint of this team is in Asia and we were also pleased to announce that we will open new offices in Wuhan, China and Rangoon, Burma (for the first time), and we will expand our presence at ten other posts across the region.

Looking forward, the Administration will continue to focus on crucial objectives such as concluding the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. The TPP will help create jobs here at home by: opening up new markets for our businesses, enhancing regulatory coherence, protecting intellectual property, and much more. In addition, we will play an active role in supporting the dynamic growth of ASEAN through the Expanded Economic Engagement initiative. And, of course, we will work through APEC to foster prosperity throughout the entire Asia-Pacific region, and I look forward to working with China’s leadership as it hosts APEC this year.

In the five years following that first successful voyage of the Empress of China, nearly thirty more American ships took the same journey. At that moment of challenge and opportunity, these intrepid pioneers established America’s first real ties across the Pacific.

Today, we are at another moment of opportunity. The U.S. economy has become inextricably linked to the Asia-Pacific region. More than ever before, governments, companies, and people throughout the region want to do business with American firms. I pledge that this Administration will continue to help American businesses and workers thrive within our own Pacific nation, and I pledge that we will work with our friends across the region to bring greater prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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