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Moderator: Good day everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub in Manila. I’m Zia Syed, the Hub Director, and I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in for this briefing. Today we are very pleased to be joined from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo.
We will begin with opening remarks from the Secretary, then we will open up the floor to get to as many questions as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 25 minutes. Please note that due to the high number of journalists on this call, we ask that you please limit your questions to just the one question so others can participate.
Finally, as a reminder, today’s call is on-the-record. And with that, I will turn it over to Secretary Raimondo.
Secretary Raimondo: Thank you and good evening. Greetings from Malaysia. I want to thank you all for joining me.
This week, I have spent my week in Asia – my first trip to Asia as Commerce Secretary – and it could not come at a more important time. As you all know, at a recent East Asia Summit, President Biden reaffirmed the United States commitment to the Indo-Pacific region and he outlined his vision for the region: a region that is open, connected, prosperous, resilient, and secure. At the East Asia Summit, he announced our intention to work alongside of our friends and partners to develop an Indo-Pacific economic framework which will define our shared objectives around key areas, including the digital economy, technology, supply chain resiliency, and infrastructure. I couldn’t agree more with the vision, and over the past four days I’ve had the opportunity to discuss our ideas for this framework with a number of our partners. I’ve also had a chance to listen to their ideas and learn how we can deepen our relationships here in the region.
Coordination in these key areas with like-minded countries is essential not only for global economic recovery, but to ensure American and Asian businesses are poised to seize new opportunities for growth in a post-pandemic world. I’m deeply grateful for the productive conversations that I’ve had and will continue to have with government and business leaders across the region.
Over the course of the last four days, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with my government counterparts from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia. Importantly, in a meeting yesterday with representatives from Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia, we began discussions for the development of the Indo-Pacific economic framework. And I am confident that together we will develop a framework that strengthens our businesses, our workforce, and our economies by focusing on these key areas.
We intend for the framework to be flexible and inclusive so that many different countries can participate. For example, American and Indo-Pacific consumers are feeling the impact of supply chain shortages and delays.
In addition to my meetings with government officials, I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of business leaders who are either headquartered in the Indo-Pacific region or have significant operations in the region and will be critical partners in alleviating the supply chain disruptions. Just earlier today, I had the opportunity to meet with my colleague in Malaysia, the MITI [Ministry of International Trade and Industry] minister, where we signed a statement of cooperation to work more closely together on semiconductors to strengthen our supply chains and look for more opportunities for cooperation.
Ultimately, the private sector is, of course, responsible for the supply chain, but these issues affect consumers and businesses all over the world and the pandemic exposed just how vulnerable our supply chains are to disruption. While it is essential that the United States invest in domestic manufacturing, it’s also essential that we pursue “friendshoring,” ensuring that our supply chains are fully integrated with like-minded partners and allies, and that means enhancing collaboration, increasing transparency, bolstering resiliency, sharing best practices, and identifying diverse sources of supply. Here in Malaysia specifically, I had the chance to learn more about the country’s semiconductor industry and how we can better integrate with their supply chains.
I’m also deeply focused on collaboration to expand our digital economy and set standards for emerging technologies. As we learned during the pandemic, delivering inclusive economic growth requires us to harness the full value of the digital economy, including expanding commerce and new technologies and digital services between our regions and making those critical tools available, especially to small businesses. Additionally, meeting the Indo-Pacific’s need for trillions of dollars of infrastructure improvements over the next 10 years, vital to meeting the region’s development and inclusive growth objectives.
The United States stands ready to jumpstart much-needed infrastructure projects across the region that will support expanded trade and commerce and connect businesses and workers to the digital economy. Work in these key areas began on day one of the Biden administration and will remain a priority, especially for our work at the Commerce Department. Our commitment to this region is steadfast and our desire to strengthen our economic partnerships with Indo-Pacific nations is a critical pillar to building back better.
It’s my sincere hope that our conversations and the relationships that we built on this trip will lay the groundwork for shared economic prosperity for decades to come.
I’m happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. And just a reminder, if you can, please state your name and media affiliation and location.
Our first question will go to James Mayger from Bloomberg in Beijing, China. James, please go ahead.
Question: Hi, thanks very much for talking to us today, Secretary. My question is yesterday, and then again today, you were talking about the new economic framework in Asia. Can you give us more details on how exactly that’s going to work? I mean, what’s going to be involved in that? How is it different to CPTPP? And what sort of trade is going to be covered by this agreement when it does get up? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Yes, thanks for the question. So, we don’t envision this to be a traditional free-trade agreement like CPTPP. This is a new framework for a new economy. So, the topics that we intend for it to cover include supply chain resiliency, including semiconductors, infrastructure, cybersecurity, privacy, setting tech standards together. And so, for example, what that would entail maybe for supply chains would be working with our allies in the region to map – together share information to map the supply chain, to monitor the supply chain, to manage the supply chain, to coordinate in a strategic way our investments in this area.
The point of this is that you will be able to do certain things in the context of this framework that aren’t possible in a traditional trade agreement. For example, we can agree on principles and allow for more flexibility for public-private partnerships and investment in infrastructure. And finally, we want this to be inclusive, which is another reason that it will be more flexible.
So, we are here in the region listening to our partners in the region about what is most important to them, hearing from them, and together, figuring out what elements might be in a potential partnership that we will work on together next year.
Moderator: Thank you, Secretary. Next if we could go to Liz Lee from Reuters in Malaysia. Liz, please go ahead.
Question: Hi there. Liz here from Kuala Lumpur. Just wanted to ask: I was quite interested in the semiconductor roundtable, the discussions from that roundtable itself. Could we know a bit more about what is the intention there by improving transparency and resilience? What are the things that U.S. and Malaysia were looking to in terms of the cooperation agreement? Are we looking at setting up, like, specific deals between chipmakers and investors or are we looking at some sort of support or maybe even, like, helping Malaysian companies in the U.S.? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Thank you. Well, we had an excellent discussion with more than 15 companies in the semiconductor supply chain that are operating here in Malaysia, both producers of chips as well as consumers of chips, and I co-hosted it with the MITI minister. It was first and foremost for us to listen to the concerns and needs of industry as to what we in the government could do to better support those needs.
As you know – as we all know – semiconductors power our entire economy. The demand for semiconductors is increasing at an unprecedented rate, and that means supply has to increase. Obviously, the United States is very interested to increase the domestic supply of semiconductors in America on our shores, so to collaborate with our partners and have “friendshoring” of semiconductor facilities.
So, we talked at a high level around coordinating around job training, coordinating around enabling SMEs, coordinating our investments so that we can collaborate and not have redundancy in our investments, and really, it was a broad-ranging discussion to figure out how American businesses and the government in Malaysia and Malaysian businesses can increase communication, data flow, transparency, collaboration so we can increase supplies and have a more resilient supply chain.
Moderator: Thank you, Secretary. Next, if we can go to Steven Overly from Politico in Washington, D.C. Steven, please go ahead.
Question: Good morning from Washington and thank you for hosting this. I wanted to follow up on the Indo-Pacific economic framework. How developed is that framework at this point? For instance, are you working off of text? And then, do you envision that framework grappling with tariffs or trade enforcement, and is it something you envision will ultimately require the approval of Congress? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Thank you. So, it is in its very nascent stages. As I said, I am here; the President asked me to come to the region this week to start to lay the groundwork to hear from our allies and start to coalesce around what a framework might look like, what issues it might cover, what countries might be included. So, this week’s discussions were really, very much preliminary and beginning the discussion. We envision the launch of a public [inaudible] in early 2022. So, the process will begin in early 2022.
As I said, we’ve proposed a number of areas for the framework: digital economy standards, supply chain resiliency, infrastructure, export controls, clean energy. We absolutely do not envision this to be a traditional trade agreement, absolutely do not envision it to require Congress to be involved. It’s not – it is not that. As I said, it’s a framework. It is a framework. It will be centered around shared principles and partnerships, and it’s designed to be a new sort of more flexible and inclusive framework that we will develop in partnership with our allies in the months to come.
Moderator: Thank you, Secretary. Next, if we could go to Mian Gao, who’s from Phoenix TV in Malaysia. Mian, please go ahead.
Question: Yes, good afternoon, this is Gao Mian from Phoenix TV and my question is: Could you explain the significance of the U.S. President Biden and the Chinese President Xi’s meeting on 16 November? And will the United States consider to come back to CPTPP or join the Belt and Road initiative in the future? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Sorry, could you repeat that question?
Question: My question is: Could you explain the significance of the United States President Biden and China President Xi’s meeting on 16 November? And will the United States consider to come back to CPTPP or join the Belt and Road initiative in the future? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Okay, I had a little hard time hearing you, but I’ll try my best to answer. President Biden has made it clear that we are not in a position to join CPTPP, and as I said to the earlier question, we are not here to be talking about any kind of a trade agreement. The President believes, though, that there are ways to deepen our partnership and economic integration with the Indo-Pacific region that go well beyond a traditional trade agreement. And President Biden announced our intent to explore a new kind of a regional economic framework that does just that, focusing on areas that are, frankly, often not included in a traditional trade agreement, like supply chains or digital standards or tech standards or infrastructure.
So, this is a conversation that we are here to begin with government and business leaders, and we look forward to learning from their insights so we can work jointly towards a larger, more flexivble economic partnership among like-minded economies in the region.
By the way, and it should go without saying, but the United States has been in this region partnering with countries, like-minded countries in the region, for decades, and so we are here just looking to double down on those longstanding relationships.
Moderator: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Let’s go next to Elvis Chang from NTDAPTV in Taiwan. Elvis, please go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Secretary, my question is the United States and Japan just announced a new partnership on trade in order to support the Indo-Pacific economic framework. And would you share about your expectation on Taiwan’s role and the opportunity to contribute and attend this framework?
Secretary Raimondo: I’m so sorry, it’s really hard to hear —
Moderator: I can clarify as I think I heard that one. It was that the U.S. and Japan just announced a U.S.-Japan partnership on trade in order to support the Indo-Pacific economic framework. And he was asking: Can you share your expectations on Taiwan’s role and opportunity to contribute to the framework?
Secretary Raimondo: I see. As I said earlier, we are in this – we are here initiating discussions and in the very earliest stages of having these discussions. So, it is far too premature to suggest precisely which countries, precisely which issues. This week has been very successful in that the conversations have been positive. All of the countries in this region are really very excited that the United States is here, is back, is present, and we look forward to continuing the discussions.
Zia, I think we have time for one last question.
Moderator: Okay, sure. Let’s go ahead and close then with Qingting Zheng from 21st Century Business Herald in Beijing. Qingting, can you please go ahead?
Question: Yes, thank you so much. A follow-up question on the Indo-Pacific economic framework. So, you mentioned that it won’t be a traditional trade deal, right? So, I’m wondering whether it means that it will be more like an initiative with no binding commitments or treaty obligations. In terms of the strength of the U.S. economic relationship with your allies in the region, why is this framework better than the CPTPP? And how many countries will join the framework when it is launched next year? Thank you.
Secretary Raimondo: Thank you. So, as I said earlier, we’re in very preliminary stages. We’re here working with our partners to decide collaboratively with partners the shape that it will take. And it is premature, too early, to say the precise legal structure that it would take or exactly which countries would be included. But I will say this: We believe – President Biden has been very clear – that we are looking to make real commitments in the region, and to the region. And we believe that this will be a new kind of agreement for a new economy. And there is a great deal that we can do together with real commitments to strengthen our economic ties in the region, improve our connectivity, boost broad economic prosperity, and to focus on issues that are the most relevant as we rebuild post-pandemic with our allies, such as collaborating on supply chains, coordinating our investments around supply chains, collaborating around export controls, everything I’ve already mentioned.
So, we believe that this has the potential to be really quite significant in the region.
Moderator: Thank you, Madam Secretary. That will conclude today’s call. I want to thank U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo, and I also thank all of our journalists on the line for participating, and I apologize if we were not able to get to your questions today. Please stay on the line for information regarding access to an audio recording of the call. Also, please be aware that a transcript of the call will be posted to our social media platforms and sent out to all of you within a day. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Asia Pacific Media Hub at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thank you very much.