REMARKS BY CHRISTOPHER A. PADILLA
UNDER SECRETARY OF COMMERCE FOR INTERNATIONAL TRADE
AT THE U.S.-ASEAN BUSINESS SUMMIT
APRIL 28, 2008
Thank you, Ambassador John, for that kind introduction. Prime Minister Samak, Foreign Minister Noppadon, distinguished guests: I am honored and pleased to be here in Bangkok and would like to thank you both for hosting this event to celebrate 175 years of U.S.-Thai relations.
I would also like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, and the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand for their invitation to speak today.
In 1833, an American envoy named Edmund Roberts made the perilous journey across the Pacific Ocean to reach the court of His Majesty King Rama III. Following his historic audience with the King, the United States and Thailand signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, America’s first treaty with an Asian nation, laying the groundwork for almost two centuries of economic relations between our countries. In that year, despite the enormous geographical distance separating Thailand and the United States, both countries recognized the potential that a formalized relationship would bring.
One hundred and seventy five years later we share, as President Bush recently said, “a commitment to democracy and to free and fair trade as well as a respect for human rights. Our tradition of cooperation and support remains strong.…” Indeed, these past two centuries have seen ceaseless activity between our two nations, leading to a remarkable explosion of growth in trade and investment, political and military cooperation, and cultural interaction. The results have benefited not only our two countries, but the entire Pacific region.
Today, bilateral trade is a record $31 billion, with U.S. investment in Thailand standing at $23 billion. The American Chamber of Commerce of Thailand, founded in 1956 with just eight companies, now has 600 members. More than 20,000 Americans live and work in Thailand and hundreds of thousands of Thais now call the United States home. Every year, the ties that bind us together grow stronger and stronger.
Thailand’s Remarkable Growth
This is, I believe, due to our shared values and interests. Both Thailand and the United States believe in freedom and entrepreneurship, which are the necessary foundations for any successful country to thrive. I am astonished every time I visit Thailand and see firsthand the energy and enthusiasm of its people.
Thailand’s remarkable success is in large measure due to its embrace of the global economy. Two decades ago, Thai leaders recognized that statist economic policies and high barriers to trade would lead only to economic stagnation. Instead, Thai leaders then and now understand that the entrepreneurial spirit and creativity of the Thai people position this country to thrive in the global economy.
Thailand is a country with a “can-do” attitude. One cannot help but feel the enormous energy here. And Thailand’s openness to the world is the key to its success. Last year, exports of goods and services accounted for an astounding 60 percent of economic output. When a consumer boots up a computer, uses farm equipment, or enjoys jasmine rice, there is a very good chance that the product came from right here in Thailand. We Americans should know, because we are your number one customer for Thai exports. And American investors have long recognized Thailand as one of the most important markets in the region, and continue to invest billions of dollars here.
We are here this afternoon to celebrate not only the 175th anniversary of our relationship, but also to celebrate Thailand’s return to democracy. Prime Minister, the world has been looking to your government for a signal that Thailand’s return to democracy also means an open door for foreign investment and a stable business climate. We have heard your clear message today. And together with America’s leading businesses, I am here today with a simple but important message: America stands with your freely-elected government. America looks to invigorate and deepen our economic ties. And American business is back – and here to stay.
Cooperation with ASEAN
Thailand’s strength also gives it an important responsibility in Southeast Asia. The United States greatly appreciates the leadership Thailand has exercised in the Association of South East Asian Nations and is committed to working together to further strengthen regional integration and prosperity. Already, the United States and ASEAN have a robust economic and commercial relationship. Last year, two-way trade stood at over $171 billion and, collectively, ASEAN is America’s fifth largest trading partner.
And we are committed to even deeper cooperation. In the last six years, President Bush launched the Enterprise for ASEAN initiative, the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership, and the forward-looking ASEAN-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework.
Under the Enhanced Partnership, the United States and ASEAN are cooperating on a broad range of issues, including intellectual property, standards, and regulatory initiatives. For example, more than 800 ASEAN officials have attended workshops, training, and other activities organized by the Commerce Department’s Patent and Trademark Office on intellectual property rights. We are also working together on pandemic preparedness, avian flu, HIV/AIDS, and a host of other health care challenges.
The United States business community has played a crucial role in strengthening our relationship. The American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand has been a critical partner in our efforts to enhance economic cooperation. And in Washington, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council brings together U.S. companies with a shared interest in Southeast Asia and works to promote trade and investment.
When Foreign Minister Noppadon visited Washington last month, he said that ASEAN knows it cannot afford to stand still. We agree. That’s why we are committed to moving forward with ASEAN to further advance prosperity, stability, and regional integration.
The Path Ahead
Thailand’s return to democracy will further accelerate our important bilateral cooperation. This nation’s recent free and fair elections were a welcome milestone, and I am here this week to signal America’s commitment to renew and re-energize our economic relationship. The presence of so many U.S. and Thai business leaders at this summit signals that re-engagement has already begun, but these are only first steps. As friends and partners, we must now turn our attention to some aspects of our economic relationship that need more work.
For example, we welcome that Thailand has signaled it will continue to be open to investment. Now we hope we can look forward to the next step of opening up certain restricted sectors of the economy. An open investment regime sparks innovation and creates wealth and jobs. Let me take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for his recent clear statement that the historically favorable treatment extended to American companies and investors will not change. This treatment has helped ensure billions of dollars of investments into the Thai economy, creating jobs and helping Thailand to grow and develop. We hope other sectors, such as communications, transportation, financial services, and agribusiness will also be opened to participation by American firms. Let me especially highlight how important it is that Thailand and its ASEAN partners show a willingness to open new opportunities to service providers through more ambitious offers in the Doha Round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
Second, open and transparent policymaking will be critical to creating the conditions of stability and certainty necessary to attract new investment. Capital is a coward, and investors will go where they feel safe. Thailand is located in one of the most competitive regions on Earth. Without predictability and greater transparency, investment will flow instead to Thailand’s neighbors, and this country will fall behind in a fast-paced global race for investment. But if investors continue to hear about Thailand’s commitment to democracy, transparency, and free-market reforms, the world will come to Thailand – as I have – to offer support and help this country grow.
Third, we must work together to improve and enforce intellectual property rights. A strong IPR regime signals that a country is open to technology and innovation. The United States and other countries will invest more resources when there is confidence that ideas and innovation will be protected. Innovation and creativity are not only essential for sustainable economic development, but they are also critical enablers to make Thailand into a leading knowledge economy in the information age.
We welcomed the Prime Minster’s recent confirmation that the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights will be a top priority of this government, and we look forward to a more regular bilateral dialogue on IPR. I would like to take this opportunity to say a word about the Priority Watch List on intellectual property that was in the newspapers this morning. We recognize and appreciate the improved enforcement efforts in 2007 by Thai police and customs and we are glad that the government has made this a priority.
All of us know that fake products are unsafe products. This is about more than just DVDs and handbags. Every day, people are injured and killed due to fake products, such as auto parts and medicines. Just yesterday, two people were killed and five seriously injured after taking fake drugs in Singapore. And in the United States, dozens of people have recently died after taking fake blood thinner. Today, I will propose to the Thai government that we establish a formal bilateral dialogue on IPR to develop a joint action plan so that Thailand may in the future be removed from the Priority Watch List. I am confident that this can be done in the spirit of friendly cooperation that has long characterized our relationship.
One hundred and seventy five years ago, Thailand and the United States stood at the opposite ends of the world, divided geographically, economically, and culturally. But thanks to the initial step taken by King Rama III and Edmund Roberts, our countries set forth on a path of cooperation and friendship that endures to this day.
Today, Thailand is a dynamic and open economy that has embraced the global market. It is a regional leader that has returned to democracy, and that serves as a hub for trade with ASEAN nations. The United States is eager to strengthen and deepen its economic relationship with Thailand, and we support further economic integration among ASEAN nations.
The foundation of our relationship rests on two crucial values: respect for democracy and for free markets. For the prosperity of our citizens, it is critical that we work together – government and private sector – America and Thailand – to take the next steps in deepening our economic partnership: by opening further to investment, by fostering transparency and business stability, and by protecting the rights of those who innovate and drive the knowledge economies of the 21st century.
It is important that you know – that the world knows – that the United States supports the new Thai government and the people of Thailand. Our cooperation is grounded in our shared belief in democratic governance, our shared respect for the market, and our shared efforts to make the business environment in Thailand a friendly and prosperous one.
Together we have accomplished much. On the next major anniversary of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, I hope we can celebrate even greater accomplishments.