Excellency Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
Excellency Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand
Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State of the United States of America
Excellencies, Ladies & Gentlemen,
It is with great pleasure that I stand before such esteemed audience tonight at this august forum. I trust that you all have had a fruitful discussion earlier today on the Theme “Commitment To Connectivity” of the US-ASEAN Business Forum in Siem Reap, the Land of the Angkor Civilization. Taking this opportunity, on behalf of the Royal Government and the people of Cambodia, I would like to warmly welcome and sincerely thank all distinguished speakers and participants from the US Government and the Private Sector, especially Honorable Hillary Clinton for your valuable presence with all of us at this time. As the Chair of ASEAN and on behalf of all ASEAN Members, I highly appreciate the joint initiative by the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce in making this important forum possible to address the opportunities and challenges that will define the direction of US-ASEAN economic cooperation in the context of “connectivity”, which is one of the top priorities for ASEAN.
Indeed, after 45 years of cooperation and integration toward a regional community, ASEAN has achieved significant progress in all areas. Presently, we are giving high priority to the ongoing efforts toward building the ASEAN Community by 2015. With this, while efforts aimed at achieving action plans on the three pillars of ASEAN community building namely, Political-Security Community, Economic Community, and Socio-Cultural Community, we have paid attention especially on the “connectivity” agenda. Indeed, the Phnom Penh Agenda adopted by ASEAN Leaders during the recent 20th ASEAN Summit, has given a high emphasis on the timely implementation of the “ASEAN connectivity” to accelerate the integration process and strengthen ASEAN’s external relations with important partners as well. ASEAN’s commitment to “connectivity” within the region has been clearly defined in the “Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity”, a comprehensive plan designed to underpin our effort in establishing the “ASEAN Economic Community” by 2015. I would like to underline that the “Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity” includes three important elements: first, physical connectivity; second, institutional connectivity; and third, people-to-people connectivity.
To promote physical connectivity in the region, ASEAN has given priority to investments in cross border infrastructures including transportations, telecommunications and energy networks. In ASEAN, we consider physical connectivity as an important key to reduce development gaps within the region and ensure the success of the ASEAN integration. To achieve this goal, we have identified key aspects of implementation which are (1) establishing an official mechanism for mobilizing and coordinating participation of development partners including participation of private sector, and(2) quick operationalization of this financing mechanism. In this endeavor and with the ADB support, we jointly established the “ASEAN Infrastructure Fund” which is now already in operation.Nevertheless, we admit that the Fund of around USD 500 million is still very small. It cannot sufficiently respond to the great need of the ASEAN connectivity. Therefore, ASEAN is taking necessary measures to attract more financing partners to increase the fund size, especially the ASEAN plus Three partners and multilateral institutions.
ASEAN is well aware that it is not sufficient to simply provide physical connectivity for the goal of building a competitive ASEAN economic community. We have to put “connectivity”in a wider context by linking it with the need to develop a logistic system incorporating physical connectivity, trade facilitation and service liberalization in all aspects of policies and their implementation, wherein institutional connectivity is another important core element. In this regard, a physically and institutionally well connected ASEAN is crucial for narrowing the development gap among members, ensuring successful integration of ASEAN, and enhancing ASEAN prestige as an indispensable strategic partner of major countries and organizations in the world.
In this context, I believe that the US is one of the most important partners of ASEAN in all aspects including political, security and economic cooperation and will definitely benefit from joining ASEAN for the cause of building ASEAN Community as a cohesive family, living in political, security, economic and socio-cultural harmony, and is rules-based, peaceful and economically strong. The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton has mentioned in her speech in November 2011 at the US-ASEAN Business Summit in Bali that “economic policy is foreign policy”. I believe you were right, Madam Secretary. In today global arena economic policies are the core of countries’ prosperity and influence. Therefore, helping one another grow and deliver opportunities to our citizens is one of the most important and indispensible aspects of our relations.
In this spirit, I would like to stress on the firm position of Cambodia in fully supporting the idea of enhancing and strengthening the strategic partnership between the US and ASEAN including partnerships between governments and between private sectors of our countries, so that to promote both soft and hard infrastructure development in order to ensure a full connectivity in the region. Therefore, we need to further work together to encourage private companies to increase activities in trade, investments and create new jobs. In this regard, we highly appreciate the US initiative on the Lower Mekong cooperation. At the same time, we note that the United States has joined and helped to drive the negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We are monitoring with great interest the development of the TPP. Four of our ASEAN members are presently engaged in these important negotiations while other ASEAN members namely Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia are not currently eligible for membership in the TPP because we are not members of APEC. I hope we can find ways to address that situation so that all of ASEAN can have the opportunity to be engaged in this cooperation. Moreover, we should develop an alternative vehicle to elevate ASEAN-US cooperation such as a possibility of having an arrangement for a US-ASEAN free trade agreement or a comprehensive economic partnership in order to ensure that the United States and ASEAN have a pragmatic plan for advancing our economic ties for mutual benefit.
Since 1993, Cambodia has strived to provide a most liberal investment environment in the region in terms of openness, preferential tax and investment regimes for business without discrimination. Moreover, we are promoting the implementation of domestic reform agenda by focusing especially on trade facilitation. We are fully conscious that our investment climate needs to converge towards international norms by removing impediments and unnecessary formalities and payment for ensuring better efficiency in business. At present, all these are going parallel with the promotion of the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Investment Agreement (ACIA) which set a free and open investment environment for international best practices. Moreover, Cambodia has transparent regime with ASEAN members and its trading partners.
Overall, Cambodia believes that further liberalization of trade by giving special attention, at this stage, on trade facilitation should be a top priority of the global development agenda. This is the idea that I put forward for consideration at the recent G-20 Summit in Los Cobos, Mexico. I believe that it is a vital pathway to enhancing economic development for smaller countries in light of rising “protectionist” trends.
Indeed, we welcome US investments in Cambodia as well as in other ASEAN member countries in order to share a “Win-Win” situation. Specifically, Cambodia would like to see more US investments in important sectors such as energy generating facilities, Oil and Gas sector, among others. I believe that your presence, Honorable Hillary Clinton at this time, is an important signal of encouragement for US investors and businessmen. We would like to highly appreciate your very kind gesture.
Finally, May I wish Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen good health, an enjoyable stay in the historical land of Angkor, and I hope that you will carry back with you lasting memories of the beauty of Cambodia, its culture and civilization when you return home.