The US will open its first commercial service office in Myanmar to help US companies invest in the southeast Asian nation, marking another step towards reviving US economic ties with the country.
The move follows the restoration of diplomatic relations and the lifting of most economic sanctions, said Penny Pritzker, US commerce secretary, as she touted the need for stronger trade relations with Asia in a speech delivered ahead of Barack Obama’s visit to the region next week.
The Obama administration is trying to boost its capacity to compete with other governments for investment deals with fast-growing emerging markets, with the US pushing to bolster exports but also attract more foreign direct investment. In Asia, the US is opening a new commercial office in Wuhan, China, and adding staff to other posts. It is opening new offices in sub-Saharan Africa as well.
The opening of the office in Myanmar follows last year’s visit to Washington by the country’s president, the first by one of its leaders in more than half a century. The UK and Canada opened commercial services operations in Myanmar in 2012.
Ms Pritzker’s speech, at the School of Advanced and International Studies in Washington, sets the stage for the economic component of Mr Obama’s trip to Asia next week.
While most of the attention will be focused on whether Mr Obama and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe can clinch a breakthrough on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks, Ms Pritzker laid out the rationale for a much broader agenda of US economic influence in the region beyond the handful of countries – from Malaysia to Vietnam, Brunei and Singapore – involved in that pact.
“Put simply, outside of the US, the Asia-Pacific region will be the engine of global growth during the next decade. This will have a profound impact on the way American companies engage in these markets,” Ms Pritzker said.
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Ms Pritzker, who joined Mr Obama’s cabinet last year, also sought to dismiss suggestions that Mr Obama’s attempts to “pivot” or “rebalance” US foreign policy towards Asia had been stymied by persistent flash points in the Middle East as well as the recent crisis with Ukraine.
“There are people – in the media and elsewhere – who question whether the administration’s rebalance to Asia will persist and thrive as we tackle crises and capitalise on opportunities elsewhere around the world,” Ms Pritzker said. “ Let me be clear at the outset: The United States has made a long-term commitment to the region. No matter what crisis emerges next, rebalancing toward the region will remain a cornerstone of this administration’s foreign policy”.
In her speech, Ms Pritzker promoted the need for “creative and energetic commercial diplomacy” across the region and said she would be travelling to Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar itself with US chief executives in June. Historically, the US government has been less aggressive in promoting deals for its companies than other countries, wary of pursuing “industrial policy” that picks winners and losers.
But heightened competitiveness in the global economy is changing that dynamic. Ms Pritzker specifically cited two Asian deals recently facilitated by the US government, including a 94million USD contract secured by General Electric for a wind farm project in Vietnam, and a 172million USD export loan arranged for Keppel Offshore & Marine, a Singapore-based energy infrastructure company with big operations in Texas, to sell products to Mexico from its US subsidiary.