0200 GMT February 23, 2020
Ross spoke at a business forum in Bangkok organized alongside meetings hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Ross and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien are leading a downgraded American delegation, The Jakarta Post reported.
Negotiators from 16 nations are seeking a breakthrough on the world’s largest regional trade pact, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, after India jeopardized the deal with last-minute requests.
Leaders had planned to present a preliminary deal on Monday, paving the way for countries to finalize details on the legal framework of an agreement that would cover one-third of the global economy. The Philippines said Saturday that negotiations wouldn’t be completed until February.
The commerce secretary said in a morning keynote that the US will continue negotiating a free-trade accord in the region, with US Indo-Pacific trade at a record $2 trillion in 2018. He called engagement with the region a priority for Donald Trump.
Ross also addressed Trump’s protracted trade war with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, saying the US was “very far along” with “Phase One” of a deal. He expressed similar optimism in an interview with Bloomberg Sunday night on the sidelines of the summit, where he also said licenses would be coming “very shortly” for US firms to sell components to Huawei Technologies.
Kobsak Pootrakool, a deputy secretary-general to Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, said officials had worked “very hard” up until Sunday night to make “significant progress” toward an RCEP deal. “Thailand will continue to actively work with parties concerned in order to reach an agreement subsequently,” he said.