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US seeks opportunities in Lower Mekong

Mar 26. 2012
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By Jeerawat Na Thalang
The Natio

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Business reps to tour region soon

The US is keen to participate in the development of the Lower Mekong sub-region and plans to familiarise American companies with the area to pave the way for participation in future projects, said Robert Hormats, a senior US State Department official.

Speaking during a recent visit to Thailand, Hormats, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said there is a wide range of areas in which the US can cooperate with Lower Mekong countries, including education, the environment, power grids, smart power and connectivity. The sub-region encompasses Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
In July, the US government will participate in a meeting on Lower Mekong development in Hanoi, in which representatives of American companies will accompany officials. Asked about the role of the US private-sector representatives in the meeting, he said: “The goal is to familiarise American companies with the region.” 
Hormats said his two-day visit to Thailand had two main purposes. First, to emphasise the high degree of importance that the US attaches to its relationship with Thailand. Second, to discuss a number of economic and trade issues. Thailand was the second leg of his trip to the region last week, which also took him to Vietnam.
In the Kingdom, the under secretary spoke with Public Health Ministry officials over how the two countries could work together to suppress counterfeit and sub-standard drugs in Thailand. “We are developing a partnership with Thailand,” he said. As an example of the potential cooperation, he said that US scientists and officials from the State Department and the Food and Drug Administration could work with Thai officials from the Public Health Ministry and other agencies to raise awareness of counterfeit drugs and develop devices to test for them.
On the environmental front, Hormats and Thai officials discussed ways to promote better use of bio-fuels for automobiles and aircraft. Scientific breakthroughs can be harnessed to benefit the environment and produce cheaper fuels, he said.
Asked if Thailand should join multilateral trade talks ahead of Washington’s planned Pacific-wide trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Hormats said, “I think it’s a decision for Thailand to make. Thailand has to decide what is in its own interest.” Thailand is presently not among the envisioned TPP countries.
Hormats said that Thailand had not yet requested to be a part of the group, but had asked for information on just exactly what the TPP involves and what its members would do.
On the implications of this year’s US presidential election for future US trade policy, Hormats said, “I don’t see a major change in the relationship.” 
During this election season, some US politicians have raised concerns over the outsourcing of American jobs to Asia. Hormats, however, said outsourcing, which comes with US investment, would in fact boost US exports to the region. “There does not have to be a contradiction between trade and investment.” 
He added that there were lot of opportunities for American companies to invest in Asia and sell more US-produced goods in the region. “In order to sell in Asia, you have to have a presence in Asia,” he said. “So I don’t think having a presence in Asia is inconsistent with the possibility of additional sales from the US to Asia.”

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