Remarks by Under Secretary Lago - June 14

Washington, DC
June 14, 2023

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Maggie, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the CSIS and USABC for hosting today’s event.  

To the members of USABC, you are such a valuable and productive partner to our Department of Commerce team, both in Washington and in the Indo-Pacific region. I have appreciated the chance to meet with your members and leadership, and participate in your programming — including a digital trade workshop that I joined just last week in Singapore. 

Likewise, to CSIS members: you provide an indispensable forum to discuss pressing foreign policy issues. Last June, I had the privilege of joining you to provide the Commerce Department’s perspective on the “Future of the Economic Order in the Asia-Pacific Region.”

One year later, our Commerce team—and the Biden-Harris Administration as a whole—remain fully committed to advancing U.S. engagement in the region under our Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

As the world’s most dynamic and fastest-growing region, deeper partnerships across the Indo-Pacific are essential to forging a future of shared security and prosperity. 

The Administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy sets out to achieve just that, a region that is free, open, and, growing ever more, connected, prosperous, and secure. 

The Department of Commerce and, in particular, our team at the International Trade Administration (ITA), embraces our role in the Indo-Pacific Strategy. 

The cornerstone of our efforts is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, or IPEF, through which we seek to deepen our economic engagement and cooperation in the region. 

Grounded in a shared commitment to a free, fair, open, interconnected, resilient, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, IPEF seeks to deepen commercial relations, advance shared economic policy priorities, and help to ensure the mutual economic competitiveness of the United States and our 13 IPEF partner nations. 

A year ago, when I last spoke at CSIS, President Biden and our IPEF partner nations had only just launched a nascent framework. We have come so far in just 12 months. So I am pleased to be able to share the progress that we have made, and most especially the substantial conclusion of negotiations on the first-of-its-kind IPEF Supply Chain Agreement, which was announced at the end of May at a meeting of IPEF Ministers, including Secretary Raimondo.

While some additional steps remain to finalize the Supply Chain Agreement, the IPEF partner nations are already moving forward together, through the Agreement, to achieve our shared vision of more resilient, secure, and diversified supply chains that will benefit our economies, workers and businesses, including through private sector engagement, technical assistance, and capacity building. 

Beyond IPEF’s Supply Chain Pillar, we are also continuing our work with the IPEF partner nations on the Clean Economy Pillar. Here, we aim to capitalize on the economic opportunities that the energy transition presents, and to lay the groundwork to tackle challenges in the years to come. 

And in the Fair Economy Pillar, we are working with the IPEF partner nations to strengthen anti-corruption efforts and improve the efficiency of tax administration. These changes will reflect our commitment to enhancing the transparency, predictability, and ease of doing business in our markets—sending an unmistakable signal to the business community. 

With an incredibly ambitious timeline ahead, we will continue to work closely with our IPEF partner nations to deliver concrete outcomes as quickly as possible—to enhance our respective economic competitiveness and to improve the business environment to the benefit of businesses and workers in all IPEF partner nations.  

Beyond IPEF, our ITA team is engaged across an array of multilateral and bilateral fora to further strengthen our economic and commercial ties in the region. This includes the United States’ serving as this year’s APEC host—for the first time in over a decade. 

The 21 APEC member economies account for nearly 40% of the global population, almost half of global trade, and approximately 60% of global GDP. The Biden-Harris Administration is fully embracing the honor and responsibility of serving as this year’s APEC Host, seeking to tap into this immense potential to advance an “interconnected, innovative, and inclusive” Asia-Pacific region.

This includes working through deep, regular, high-level engagement with the other economies to promote free, fair and open trade and investment—including at the Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SME) Ministerial Meeting, which the Commerce Department will host in August in Seattle.

The SME Ministerial Meeting offers an opportunity to focus on how we can leverage cross-border e-commerce to expand access to global value chains for SMEs, especially those that are women-owned, and how we can strengthen the green transition for SMEs. 

Given the unique challenges faced by women-owned SMEs, I am pleased to share that, for the first time ever, the Commerce Department is planning a joint APEC ministerial meeting among the SME Ministers and the Ministers of the APEC Women in the Economy Forum. 

As we follow through on our commitment to sustained, meaningful engagement with our counterpart governments throughout this region, Commerce has made it a priority to show up and reach out—including to ASEAN countries. 

In March, I traveled to Thailand and to Vietnam to lead the Commerce Department’s largest annual trade mission and business forum, known as Trade Winds. Over 100 U.S. companies participated in the Trade Winds Business Forum in Bangkok, and dozens participated in trade mission stops across five other ASEAN markets—all seeking new opportunities and commercial partners across crucial sectors like ICT, consumer goods, healthcare, aerospace, and defense. 

In addition to some 750 business-to-business meetings that the Commerce Department set up to facilitate new U.S.-ASEAN business ventures, sales and deals, this visit also provided a key opportunity to engage with Thai and Vietnamese government counterparts to discuss challenges and opportunities for commercial collaboration in the region, with a special focus on the digital transformation and the clean energy transition. 

More recently, I spent the last two weeks in India and Singapore strengthening our relationships with these two critical partners.

In Bengaluru and Chennai, I met with U.S. and Indian private sector representatives to advance our countries’ work to develop more resilient semiconductor supply chains and to discuss opportunities for collaboration on clean energy priorities related to solar energy, advanced batteries and electric vehicles. And Commerce’s engagement with India extends throughout the agency—including Secretary Gina Raimondo. 

My trip followed Secretary Raimondo’s successful trip to India in March, where she convened meetings of the U.S.-India Commercial Dialogue and U.S.-India CEO Forum with Minister of Commerce and Industry Goyal. 

Most recently, Secretary Raimondo highlighted the importance of the U.S.-India commercial relationship in her remarks at the U.S.-India Business Council’s Annual General Meeting and Ideas Summit. 

Turning to Singapore, while there last week I highlighted U.S. technological innovation and our commitment to inclusive, high standards digital trade at the Asia Tech x Singapore conference. In meetings with my government counterparts, we took stock of the progress that we are making under our U.S.-Singapore Partnership for Growth and Innovation, or PGI, and to plan new areas of collaboration. 

We have had particular success in the PGI digital work stream – prioritizing open and secure data flows across borders, supporting the evolution of “smart” cities, and promoting the trustworthy and responsible use of artificial intelligence. These bilateral efforts further help to anchor our regional work with ASEAN to enhance trade by boosting regional connectivity and by preventing the growth of technical barriers to trade.

Moving forward, the Commerce Department will work with Singapore to expand our efforts on the PGI clean energy and environmental technologies work stream, where we will focus on promoting sustainability and the adoption of high-quality climate standards across Southeast Asia. We will also pursue work under the PGI advanced manufacturing and supply chain work streams, focusing on improving supply chain resilience and enhancing digital trade processes in the ASEAN region. And these bilateral efforts under PGI will continue to complement our broader engagement through IPEF.  

These are just a few examples of how we are driving durable progress under the Administration’s Indo-Pacific Strategy. Whether working through IPEF, APEC or bilateral engagements across the region, our team—from Secretary Raimondo to nearly 300 Foreign Commercial Service staff based in the region—continues to see progress and engagement in the Indo-Pacific as a pressing priority.

In this, as in all of our efforts to deepen commercial ties and policy cooperation, I welcome your perspectives—from industry, labor and other stakeholders here and all throughout the region. I encourage you to be in touch with our team in Washington and at embassies and consulates throughout the region. Thank you for your time and engagement.