Remarks by Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Gloria Steele at the Asia EDGE Virtual Workshop: Supporting Indo-Pacific Industry Engagement through Asia EDGE

Speeches Shim

Thursday, June 25, 2020

[As prepared] 


Good afternoon, everyone. 

I’d like to begin by thanking my colleagues at the Department of Commerce for organizing today’s event and for bringing us all together. It’s a pleasure to join you.

I’d also like to extend a special thanks to the more than 100 representatives from American businesses who are here today. At USAID, we believe that private enterprise is the single most powerful force for lifting lives, strengthening communities, and accelerating partner country self-reliance—or the day when foreign assistance is no longer needed. Thank you all for being here.

Energy in the Indo-Pacific

The Indo-Pacific region holds tremendous potential for U.S. energy companies. Two-thirds of projected global energy growth over the next 20 years will occur in developing countries across this critical region.

India alone is expected to see a 250 percent increase in domestic energy demand, representing over $3 trillion in market opportunity.

With this growth, the need for high-quality, sustainable energy infrastructure will also increase. According to the Asian Development Bank, building out Asia’s energy markets requires investments of over $14 trillion in power infrastructure by 2030 to maintain the region’s growth momentum.

The Challenges U.S. Businesses Face in the Indo-Pacific

Despite the enormous potential, we know that U.S. energy companies face a number of challenges—including a lack of government transparency and an uneven playing field in-country—that make it difficult to invest in the region’s energy sector. Prolonged global restrictions on mobility, social, and economic activity due to COVID-19 only exacerbate these challenges.

Transparency is critical to building confidence in the market, forging economic sustainability, and leveling the playing field for legitimate investors—all of you. 

Yet, we know that governments across the region continue to engage in opaque financing and procurement practices, restrict public engagement, and keep decision-making out of public scrutiny. In many countries, opaque practices have led governments to opt for short-term expediency and long-term debt distress, particularly with China. In fact, six of the eight most highly debt-distressed countries in the world are in Asia.

Corruption, nationalization laws, weak regulatory environments, and a lack of competitive tenders further restrict the business enabling environment. 

Adding to these already-challenging obstacles, COVID-19 continues to have an unprecedented impact on the global economy and on energy investment. The International Energy Agency predicts that global investment in energy will fall by one-fifth this year due to the pandemic.

These challenges not only hinder fair competition, they deter U.S. investment in the world’s fastest growing markets. 

Asia EDGE and How USAID Supports U.S. Industry in the Indo-Pacific

We are working to break down these barriers. But we need to work together. Government reforms and private sector investment are crucial to fueling Asia’s long-term energy growth and stability. This is where USAID and all of you come into play. 

Under Asia EDGE, USAID is working to build an enabling environment that makes it easier for U.S companies to tap into the region’s energy markets. We expand access to energy, promote energy diversification and trade, and strengthen energy independence and security.

Throughout the region, our support for a sustainable and secure energy future is multifaceted and wide-ranging.

We work with partner countries to build an attractive enabling environment for businesses, funding programs that promote legal, regulatory, and policy reforms. This includes fostering open, transparent, and best-value procurement practices, which helps level the playing field for U.S. businesses.

Leveling the playing field is key to opening up the energy sector to your investment. A level playing field allows you to compete on an equal footing, it reduces the restrictions levied by nationalization laws, and fosters a legal system that works for you, and not against you. Investment must be open to all.

In addition, we help partner countries optimize their fiscal resources by focusing on energy projects with the highest returns. We provide legal and technical assistance to help countries analyze the feasibility of loan-financed energy infrastructure projects. We also help power utilities move away from state-owned models and toward more viable utility structures and financing vehicles that better incentivize modernization.

To promote sustainable energy growth, we work with partner countries to implement robust environmental and social safeguards with respect to energy infrastructure investments. 

And we foster regional energy trade and integration to help meet growing energy demand. We advance legal and regulatory frameworks that enable power and gas trade and the development of power markets, including regional power exchanges. 

The Power of the U.S. Private Sector

It will be impossible to close the energy-investment gap without the unparalleled innovation, expertise, and resources of the U.S. private sector. 

Your contributions are key to unlocking new financing streams and allowing for greater choices and partners for development. That’s why USAID has made private-sector engagement a core tenet of our development approach. 

For example, in Vietnam, where the demand for energy is expected to more than double by 2030, USAID is working with the Ministry of Industry and Trade to pilot a renewable energy direct power purchase agreement mechanism. This will allow power consumers to contract directly with renewable energy developers. Twenty-six companies operating in Vietnam, including American business leaders like Apple, Nike, and GE, have partnered with USAID to support the pilot. 

Addressing issues of transparency, USAID supported the Government of Sri Lanka to launch an e-government procurement platform last year. The new platform replaces the paper-based procurement process with a fully automated one, resulting in greater transparency and efficiency while limiting opportunities for fraud and corruption.

In May 2019, USAID’s partner—the Ha Do Group—finished building its first solar power farm in Vietnam using services and advanced technology from SunPower, a U.S. leader in solar energy. This utility-scale solar farm will produce enough power to electrify over 20,000 homes per year.

In Indonesia, our support for the integration of variable renewable energy into Indonesian power grids paved the way for the development of Indonesia’s first two utility-scale wind farms. These were developed by Colorado-based UPC Renewables, and Vena Energy, a subsidiary of the New York-based equity fund, Global Infrastructure Partners. 

And in India, where buildings consume roughly one-third of the country’s energy, USAID helped introduce super-efficient air-conditioners into the Indian market. 

With the air conditioning market in India growing at 15 percent every year, new opportunities are surging for American companies like Carrier Global Corporation and York International Corporation.

How U.S. Companies Can Get Involved

These are just a few examples of how USAID is partnering with American companies to build a secure and sustainable energy future in the Indo-Pacific. And  there are more ways that American companies can get involved in our work.

In July, USAID will launch the Asia EDGE Power Sector Learning Series. This webinar series will provide no-cost, virtual training on power sector planning, resilience, grid integration, and power sector modernization. I encourage all of you to participate.

And through our partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), we are working together to share the lifecycle costs and benefits of energy investment decisions, through our support of projects like the Southeast Asia Renewable Energy Data Explorer. Additionally, we recently released a detailed report that analyzes COVID-19’s impacts on Southeast Asia’s power sector, which presents opportunities for increasing resilience, expediting recovery, and bolstering private sector engagement.

Looking Ahead and Closing

The future of clean, sustainable energy begins with us. Together, we have the expertise and the resources to make a difference. Even with the challenges brought by COVID-19, we can use this opportunity to pursue policy and regulatory measures that will link recovery with sustainable energy development.

I’d like to close by quoting USAID’s Private Sector Engagement Policy: “Businesses and investors create jobs. They develop and fund technologies and innovation. And they provide critical goods and services.”

For USAID and its partner countries, this means that all of you—the private sector—are more than just important stakeholders. You are indispensable partners on countries’ Journeys to Self-Reliance.  

Thank you for your partnership, and I look forward to working with you all to expand U.S investments in sustainable energy across the Indo-Pacific.  

Thank you.