Washington's top trade official on Thursday said he saw "explosive" growth opportunities within Southeast Asia, as the US pushed on with a drive to deepen ties with the dynamic region.
US trade representative Ron Kirk spoke of mutually beneficial opportunities as he met with economic ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Cambodian tourist hub of Siem Reap.
"We do think that there is explosive room for growth in the trade and investment relationship," he said.
The 10-member ASEAN bloc is the United States' fourth-largest trading partner. Trade between the two topped $198 billion in 2011, up from $186 billion the year before, according to ASEAN data.
Kirk is the highest ranking US official to attend the regional trade gathering in recent years, sending what observers described as "a strong signal" to ASEAN leaders that Washington is committed to its renewed focus on Asia as it seeks to counter Chinese influence in the region.
"For the United States, bolstering trade ties with ASEAN is beneficial not only to US businesses; it also contributes to the country's strategic rebalance to the Asia Pacific," researchers from the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a briefing note this week.
Kirk said the US was committed "to having a much more balanced partnership with all of the members of ASEAN in which our economic and investment ties begins to mirror our very strong strategic ties."
His visit follows a high-profile trip to current ASEAN chair Cambodia by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July, where she led the largest ever delegation of American businesses to attend a US-ASEAN business forum.
ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan told US industry representatives at a business forum that ASEAN was "the growth centre of the world".
"You will do well here," he told delegates. "Here is the market. Here is the opportunity."