Phnom Penh, Nov 20 (IANS) The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the US have agreed to institutionalise the meeting of their leaders to an annual summit as a step towards raising the partnership to a strategic level, according to a press statement Tuesday.
The press statement, released by the White House's Office of the Press Secretary, was made after the Fourth Asean−US Leaders' meeting co−chaired by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of Asean in 2012, and US President Barack Obama Monday evening at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, reported Xinhua.
"The summit deepened our diplomatic, economic, security, and people−to−people ties with the key Asian multilateral organization," it said, adding that with a population of approximately 620 million and a combined GDP of over $2.2 trillion, Asean is the US' fourth largest export market.
At the meeting, the US and Asean welcomed the launch of the US−ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) initiative a new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties and creating new business opportunities and jobs.
The two blocs' leaders also endorsed the US−ASEAN Innovation in Science through Partners in Regional Engagement (INSPIRE) initiative to enhance science and technology cooperation.
"INSPIRE will strengthen our collective approach to achieving important science and technology, disaster preparedness, and health objectives and deepen ties between ASEAN and US scientific communities," the statement said.
Besides, the leaders discussed the importance of building the role and influence of the East Asia Summit so that it can effectively address pressing political and strategic issues in the region and they also discussed the importance of putting mechanisms and processes in place to peacefully manage disputes over competing claims in the South China Sea.
"In this context, they expressed support for the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' statement on `Six−Point Principles on the South China Sea' and called for early conclusion of a Regional Code of Conduct," it said.
At the meeting, the US government announced the creation of the Expanded ASEAN Seafarer's Training (EAST) programme to improve counter−piracy training and education in the region.
The Asean region is home to over half of the world's seafaring workers, it said, adding that the programme, administered by the Maritime Administration under US Department of Transportation, will be expanded from its current pilot phase working with the Philippines.