Trump national security adviser to lead US delegation for Southeast Asia summit

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White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien will lead the United States delegation at two Southeast Asian virtual summits this weekend, the White House announced in a statement Friday.

© Getty Trump national security adviser to lead US delegation for Southeast Asia summit

The White House said O’Brien would represent the U.S. at a summit with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) starting Friday evening U.S. time.

He is then scheduled to take part Saturday in an East Asia Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The discussion is expected to include the signing of the China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) by 15 Asia-Pacific economies, which could become the world’s largest free trade agreement, according to Reuters.

Ambassador O’Brien will reaffirm the commitment of the United States to prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific during virtual remarks,” the White House said in its statement.

O’Brien’s appearances mark the third year in a row the U.S. has been represented at the East Asia summits.

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President Trump attended the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Manila in 2017, but has not attended a full East Asian Summit meeting, according to Reuters. The U.S. was represented by Vice President Pence at the 2018 meetings in Singapore, while O’Brien took the lead in 2019 at the summit held in Thailand.

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RCEP includes ASEAN member countries such as the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, as well as free trade agreement partners like China, India and Japan. The U.S. is not included in the agreement.

The economic partnership is seen by many as a method for China to assert its influence throughout the Pacific, coming as the Trump administration has engaged in a trade war with Beijing as part of Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

The regional agreement is expected to eliminate as much as 90 percent of tariffs on imports among the countries within 20 years, and will also establish guidelines on trade, e-commerce and intellectual property, according to the South China Morning Post.

RCEP differs from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which includes a 99 percent elimination on tariffs, and also outlines provisions on environmental and labor standards.

The CPTPP was drawn out of another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), negotiated under former President Obama. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP in 2017, arguing that the treaty’s attempt to create a single market would have hurt American workers.

The U.S. International Trade Commission and the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that TPP would have increased U.S. annual real income by $57.3 billion, 0.23 percent, and $131 billion, 0.5 percent, respectively.

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