Under Secretary of Commerce For International Trade Francisco SÁnchez
2012 U.S.-ASEAN Business Council
Saturday, July 14, 2012
As prepared for delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction.
Allow me to recognize all those involved with the Council for their tireless efforts to bring us all together. I would also like to thank our host country for its strong leadership.
I am incredibly excited to be here in Burma, along with dozens of U.S. companies; I am excited because there are great possibilities for mutually beneficial new partnerships between our public and private sectors.
We come together at a time full of great opportunity.
The challenges this nation has faced and overcome in recent years have been formidable.
And the creative solutions designed to meet these challenges have greatly improved the nature of our relationship.
Increased support for bilateral commercial ties, and the easing of sanctions against new investment by U.S. companies, marks some of the most significant changes in American economic policy towards this country.
In fact, today’s visit marks the first high-level economic and business mission by U.S. government officials in decades.
And I’m glad the U.S. government and private sector could come together today to support its work toward continued economic reform and revitalization, which has the potential to lift literally millions out of poverty.
Ties are now stronger than ever.
And we are here today to reaffirm that commitment by adding a dynamic new commercial element.
Current democratic reforms are encouraging, and we commend local efforts to strengthen the economy and grow commercial industries.
The presence of U.S. companies here today demonstrates their strong interest in supporting these efforts.
While much remains to be done, it is heartening to see the hard work of its citizens beginning to pay off.
Efforts to increase transparency and egalitarian rule not only inspire confidence in its own citizens, but in the international community as well.
Recently, the U.S. government announced its intention to formally re-establish a USAID mission in Rangoon, and we have begun exploring ways to help American companies create local partnerships.
We have also lent our support for a United Nations Development Program here.
As you can see, many of us in the international community believe in this country’s democratic and economic future.
And we want to celebrate and participate in it.
Extensive reforms, and this country’s growing role in ASEAN, will bring enhanced cooperation with all member nations as well as the international business community at large.
The entire region is a global economic center and Burma is fast becoming an invaluable addition to this commercial dynamic.
This new economic climate is creating opportunities for local and international businesses and entrepreneurs, and I am pleased that we are poised to take part in this changing environment so filled with opportunities.
We should all be proud of how much has been accomplished so far.
Between 2010 and 2011, U.S. exports to Burma quadrupled. But that was from a very low base, so it wasn’t surprising.
I know we can grow the trade relationship exponentially.
The Department of Commerce is undertaking three initiatives to move forward our commercial relationship with this country, as a complement to the broader U.S. government’s moves to ease restrictions on trade and investment.
The International Trade Administration, which I represent, has the lead on two of these initiatives.
First, we understand that companies are thirsty for reliable information about the commercial environment here.
We have created a “Doing Business in Burma” page on the website of our U.S. Commercial Service Thailand office.
There you will find an excellent list of useful information and contacts.
There are think tanks, articles and presentations on a range of topics, as well as organizations and individuals with expertise on local markets and industries.
Further, we are posting updates on commercial developments.
We are working with the Economic Section in the Embassy to update the Country Commercial Guide to help U.S. companies better navigate this complex and new market opportunity.
Secondly, I have directed our Senior Commercial Officer in Bangkok, Mike McGee, to ramp up our partnership with our State colleagues in Rangoon.
Mike is here for two weeks to explore the commercial environment and to make practical recommendations on how we can best promote American business here.
Let me note that Mike has extensive experience in developing markets.
Mike would you stand up so people will be able to find you at the reception?
Third, the Commerce Department’s Office of General Counsel will bring expert assistance to the Burmese Government as they create the legal framework for business.
The Commercial Law Development Program focuses on guiding transitioning countries through commercial legal reforms.
They plan to bring expert assistance to the Burmese Government to help improve the legal and regulatory framework to support business and trade.
Such work could potentially involve the New York Convention and the enforcement of arbitral awards, which are going to be key for local economic development.
New commercial freedoms here have attracted much foreign interest.
An untold number of companies from the United States and around the world are now looking to invest in this promising nation.
One example is the energy industry.
European, Chinese, and other companies have robust investments in this sector, and American companies have shown strong interest as well.
The Ministry of Energy has announced plans for an international bidding process for 25 offshore oil and gas blocks within the next two or three months.
Furthermore, I know that U.S. businesses have welcomed the recent easing of U.S. sanctions against new investments here and the news that they will soon be able to export financial services when licensed.
And as U.S. investment increases, we all hope economic growth and jobs will follow.
Greater economic engagement is one of our greatest methods of support to the people of Burma.
This engagement is helping to lead the charge toward more prosperous commercial relationships.
The Burmese government has pursued its own economic reforms.
President Thein Sein and his government have taken steps to unify multiple exchange rates and are preparing a new national development plan.
In a speech last month, he announced new targets for economic growth and per capital income increases along with plans to reduce the size of the state-owned business sector.
Furthermore, the Burmese Ministry of Finance claims to have implemented 80 percent of your government’s tariff reduction plan.
Burmese economic and democratic reforms have been beneficial to all of us.
I hope today will result in even stronger relationships because we have the potential to do so much more.
Yet many challenges still need answers, and I am confident we will work through these as our relationship expands.
I hope our discussions will bring direction and provide responses to many of these questions.
I am honored to be part of this historic trip.
And I look forward to working with all of you here to see the promise of this occasion translated into a brighter future for Burma and prosperity for both our nations.
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