Published:  01:36 AM, 05 November 2019

US sells business engagement as trade war drags on

US sells business engagement as trade war drags on US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross delivers a speech in Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Monday. -AP

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and a raft of other American officials are showcasing the commitment of US businesses to Asia with a gathering on the sidelines of a regional summit that President Donald Trump opted to skip.
Ross told a gathering of about 1,000 people at the privately led but government-supported Indo-Pacific Business Forum on Monday that the Trump administration is "extremely engaged and fully committed to this region."

Trump sent his national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, as his special envoy to the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He read a letter Monday at an ASEAN-US meeting, attended mostly by foreign ministers and host Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, inviting ASEAN leaders to the US for a special summit next year. On Sunday, host Thailand announced a rough agreement on plans for reaching a deal on a 16-nation trade pact, dubbed the Regional Comprehen-sive Economic Partner-ship, that does not include the US but does include Japan, China and India.

"Look. Showing up is important," said Charles Freeman, senior vice president for Asia for the US Chamber of Commerce. But he added, "it's more about substance than symbolism." "We really need a whole of government approach from the United States," he said.

Trump has said he favors country-to-country free trade arrangements rather than multilateral deals. More than a year ago, he launched an effort to get Beijing to negotiate an agreement with Washington on changing its industrial planning strategy to end policies and practices that US officials say are unfair and contribute to the huge US trade deficit with China.

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