Official Says U.S. Wants More Trade with Indo-Pacific Region

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By Rossella Brevetti

The U.S. wants additional bilateral trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific region, but multilateral agreements have not been taken off the table, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said July 30.

Ross said it was not “inconceivable” that the U.S. could end up in some multilateral trade agreements. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would have boosted U.S. engagement with the region.The U.S. exit from the TPP should not be interpreted as disengagement from the region, Ross said. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.Ross spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s first Indo-Pacific summit where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced $113 million in U.S. funds for digital economy, infrastructure, and energy initiatives in the region.

At the summit, Ross also said Commerce is granting India special status under the export control regulations. This status recognizes the security relationship between the U.S. and India and will make exports and re-exports of sensitive technology easier, he said. The new status would enable certain exports to be shipped without licenses, as is the case with U.S. allies and close strategic partners.

India will have greater supply chain efficiency for defense, and for other high-tech products as a result of the status, Ross said. Over the past seven years, the improved status would have affected about $9.7 billion worth of Indian goods purchases, he said.

Private sector engagement is key to the administration’s strategy for the Indo-Pacific area, Pompeo said. “Where America goes, we seek partnership not domination,” he said. U.S. companies with stakes in the region include General Electric, SpaceX and Chevron, according to Pompeo.The administration’s Indo-Pacific push comes at a time of increased trade tensions with China as well as with key U.S. allies, including Canada and Mexico.

Ross said North American Free Trade Agreement talks with Mexico were moving forward. “Our immediate, most close-to-completion negotiations are with NAFTA, particularly with Mexico,” Ross said. The U.S. had a high-level meeting with Mexican officials July 26. Canada did not participate in that meeting. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Asian economies in the Indo-Pacific are projected to create 50 percent of GDP growth in the coming decades. But, to reach that potential, the Indo-Pacific economies will need to attract $26 trillion in capital to fund their energy and infrastructure needs.Trade with the Indo-Pacific region is a “requirement"for any nation that hopes to compete and lead in the world economy, Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Donohue said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bloomberglaw.To contact the editor on this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bloomberglaw.com

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