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Obama to announce measures to boost SE Asia economies

/ 05:40 AM February 18, 2016

WASHINGTON—US President Barack Obama on Tuesday is to announce a package of measures designed to boost Southeast Asian economies, betting that the fast-growing region can be an ever more important trade partner.

The plan will establish three offices in Jakarta, Bangkok and Singapore to boost the US government’s “economic engagement with Asean institutions,” officials said.

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The White House sees the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as an emerging regional counterweight to China’s regional dominance. Obama and Asean leaders held a two-day summit in California.

Collectively, the countries are the fourth-largest trading partner for the United States.

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The White House said “two-way trade in goods and services has tripled since the 1990s, topping $254 billion in 2014,” supporting around half a million US jobs.

“We have an increasingly deep and broad economic relationship with Asean,” said US Ambassador to Asean Nina Hachigian.

Asean includes Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

While Southeast Asian economies are youthful and fast-growing, many sectors remain under the control of government special interests.

But countries like Indonesia are beginning to open up. Its president, Joko Widodo, recently announced steps to open the economy to foreign investment that were welcomed in Washington.

The new “US-Asean Connect” package will include technical advice on how countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines, can prepare to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a vast Pacific-wide trade deal that is in the process of being ratified.

Other measures will focus on improving trade ties in  communications and infrastructure, among other sectors, streamlining current government programs.

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The measures will also address the power sector, an area where China has been especially active, building dams along the upper Mekong. AFP

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TAGS: Obama, Southeast Asia, Southeast Asian economies
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