Today the ASEAN-United States Eminent Persons Group (EPG), a group of 13 distinguished ASEAN and United States representatives of the policy and private sector communities formally submitted recommendations to U.S. and ASEAN Leaders at the 4th ASEAN-U.S. Leaders’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Co-chaired by U.S. President Obama and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Leaders Meeting was attended by leaders of the other nine ASEAN member states.  The EPG drew up their list of recommendations following three consultations in Manila from May 20-21, Yangon from September 6-7, and Phnom Penh on November 14 this year.

The ASEAN-U.S. EPG was established at the 1st ASEAN-U.S. Leaders Meeting in Singapore in November 2009 and tasked by the Leaders to review ASEAN-U.S. dialogue relations and explore ways to elevate existing cooperation to a long-term strategic partnership. The EPG report submitted today assessed existing cooperative programs across ASEAN’s three Political-Security, Economic, and Sociocultural Communities and recommended a number of concrete initiatives, including the launch of an ASEAN-U.S. Economic Partnership Initiative (EPI).  The EPG envisioned this new initiative as leading to negotiation of an ASEAN-U.S. Trade Facilitation Agreement, Bilateral Investment Treaty, and Agreement on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) principles, which could serve as chapters of a high-standard trade agreement.  The ASEAN-U.S. EPI would also include and exchange technical and other expertise in connection with the eventual assumption of high-standard trade obligations.

Former United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who served as one of the United States’ three Eminent Persons along with Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company Muhtar Kent and former three-time U.S. Ambassador to China, Indonesia, and Singapore J. Stapleton Roy, said “Government, business and the American public are becoming aware of ASEAN, which represents a growing region of nearly 600 million people and $2.2 trillion in economic activity. Our recommendations to Leaders on the 35th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN relations were an acknowledgement of this fact and a challenge for both sides to think creatively to seize this moment of great mutual interest and opportunity.”

Among other initiatives, the EPG recommended that the United States and ASEAN double the number of students studying in each other’s countries by 2015, increase exchanges between officials at the state and municipal levels, institute an annual U.S.-ASEAN Business Summit for U.S. and ASEAN CEOs, and launch a biennial U.S.-ASEAN Youth Games including globally popular sports such as basketball and volleyball as well as traditional Southeast Asian sports such as Thai boxing and sepak takraw. The EPG recommended that the Leaders Meeting be elevated to the level of a regular, annual Summit, an important step toward full strategic partnership.

ASEAN EPG co-chair, Myanmar’s Hla Myint said “ASEAN has been pleased with increased U.S. engagement over the past few years, but there is still much more we can do together.  We hope the Leaders will consider some of our contributions and take the relationship forward in the coming years.”

In addition to Ambassadors Barshefsky and Roy, Mr. Kent, and Ambassador Hla Myint, the ASEAN-U.S. EPG included: Dato Paduka Lim Jock Hoi of Brunei Darussalem, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn of Cambodia, H.E. Immanuel Robert Inkiriwang of Indonesia, H.E. Phanthong Phommahaxay of Lao PDR, H.E. Tan Sri Ghazzali Sheikh Abdul Khalid of Malaysia, H.E. Rodolfo Severino of the Philippines, H.E. Ong Keng Yong of Singapore, H.E. Chitriya Pinthong of Thailand, and H.E. Le Van Bang of Vietnam.