Asia-Pacific Holds Tremendous Potential if U.S. Stays Engaged

Asia has long been an important destination for American business looking to grow globally. From the frozen steppes of Mongolia to the verdant valleys of New Zealand, that growth has been nothing short of amazing.

Today, more than 25,000 American business executives go to work each day across the Asia-Pacific to open new markets for products and services that carry the distinguished “Made in USA” label. These dedicated American men and women and the American companies they support deserve the full support of the Trump administration and Congress to ensure they remain strong and the envy of the world.  

America’s economic ties with countries throughout the Asia-Pacific are strong. In fact, an estimated 62 percent of all American exports end up there, supporting over 3.5 million American jobs. In 2016 alone, American-based companies exported more than $637 billion of goods and services to the Asia-Pacific.

Yet, there is still much more room to grow. The Asia-Pacific annual gross domestic product growth is projected to be at least 6.2 percent by the year 2020. By 2030, 59 percent of global middle-class consumption will be a result of spending in the Asia-Pacific.

Unfortunately, according to a report from the bipartisan think tank Third Way, the United States continues to lose market share to foreign competitors in the Asia-Pacific. From 2000 through 2014, for example, U.S. market share in the region fell 46 percent, the largest drop of any of the 25 largest exporters. This is a lost opportunity for U.S. job growth.

This week, members of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce traveled to Washington. APCAC, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, represents the growing interests of over 25,000 overseas Americans and more than 15,000 business entities in the Asia-Pacific. The organization and its collective membership are the front line of commercial diplomacy in the region. We see firsthand the opportunities — and challenges — facing American workers and business across the region.

The APCAC delegation is advocating for policies that will leverage the Asia-Pacific’s growth for greater opportunities for American businesses and forge even deeper partnerships in the region. Chief among those policies is trade. Asian countries stand ready and willing to develop strong economic partnerships with the United States but will not sit idly by. They are moving forward with our competitors, including China and the European Union, on a number of different fronts.

According to the Asian Development Bank, some 70-plus bilateral or regional free trade agreements with Asian countries are currently under negotiation or awaiting entry into force. This includes the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, which is expected to be signed this year. The significance of this agreement cannot be understated. It represents an important stepping stone to a wider EU-Southeast Asia trade deal — a dynamic that comes at the expense of American companies and workers.

APCAC’s message to the Trump administration and Congress is simple — to compete in the Asia-Pacific. U.S. companies need an integrated, cohesive strategy toward the region encompassing, among other things, high-standard bilateral and/or multilateral free trade agreements. This effort should be seen as complimentary, not adverse, to the administration’s focus on expanding the economy and creating jobs.

Removing barriers to trade and raising standards will allow American companies to “sell American” and foreign consumers to “buy American.” This translates directly into a stronger economy and more jobs as companies large and small capture the boundless demand the Asia-Pacific offers. Moreover, outward-facing engagement will allow the United States, not our competitors, to shape the rules of economic engagement and set the standards for 21st-century trade.

APCAC strongly urges policymakers to consider a mix of bilateral and regional/multilateral trade engagements that will allow the United States to prosper from the giant, interconnected economy of the Asia-Pacific. A prime example of this is the currently sidelined Trans-Pacific Partnership, which studies show would create some 800,000 jobs and raise U.S. incomes by $131 billion annually after 2030.

As the United States pulls back, the economies of the Asia-Pacific have moved forward signing the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. APCAC believes the administration and Congress should bring the United States back into those discussions and move them forward.

The United States is the world’s economic leader and will remain so, but only if lawmakers embrace policies that maximize opportunities for U.S. workers and businesses overseas. We hope our message results in bold action by U.S. policymakers.


Ann Yom Steel is vice chair of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce and executive director of AmCham Singapore.

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