“Therefore the U.S. should adopt a more active trade and investment agenda with ASEAN, which will benefit the U.S. economically and strategically,” he said. Yaakob pointed to the entry into force of the Regional Economic Comprehensive Partnership (RCEP), a Chinese-backed initiative, which ASEAN saw as an important tool to invigorate regional business and economic activity through a marked reduction in trade barriers.
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Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob urged the US to pursue a more active trade and investment agenda with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Thursday, claiming that doing so would benefit Washington both economically and diplomatically. Yaakob expressed some of the displeasure felt in Asia after former President Donald Trump pulled out of a regional trade treaty in 2017. He spoke in Washington, where ASEAN leaders are meeting with President Joe Biden for a two-day conference. He described the United States as ASEAN’s most important economic partner and largest foreign direct investor, with two-way commerce at $308.9 billion in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic, Yaakob told a gathering of US business leaders and other ASEAN officials, had highlighted the significance of international cooperation.
He said there were some 6,200 U.S. companies operating in ASEAN, many of which used the region as a production platform to export in the region and beyond. “To further their growth I would encourage U.S. businesses to tap into the largest FTA, with a market covering 15 countries, comprising 2.3 billion, or nearly a third of the global population and world GDP, and take advantage of the vast investment opportunities presented,” he said. At a virtual summit with ASEAN last October, Biden said Washington would start talks about developing an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) to engage more with the region as the United States seeks to push back against China’s growing influence. This would aim to set regional standards for cooperation, but does not currently offer the expanded market access Asian nations crave given his concern for American jobs.