Ambassador Katherine Tai speaks at launch of Silverado and ASPI event

04/19/2022 | Silverado Policy Accelerator

The United States Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai delivered a keynote address this evening at the launch of the Asia Society Policy Institute’s new program, “Building Ties with ASEAN’s Emerging Female Leaders,” made possible by the support of Silverado Policy Accelerator.

In her remarks, delivered at a reception at the Embassy Singapore, Ambassador Tai praised the new program for supporting the professional development of ASEAN’s next generation of female trade negotiators and experts by providing training and mentorship opportunities. “We must activate women across ASEAN to bring about transformative change. While we are seeing signs of progress – greater political representation, increased access to education – there is still a wide gap between our ambitions and reality,” said Ambassador Tai. “That is why this gathering is so important. It represents a commitment by all of us towards lifting up women and emerging leaders across the region."

Singapore's Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, Asia Society Policy Institute Vice President Wendy Cutler, and Silverado Policy Accelerator’s Co-Founder and Executive Chair Maureen Hinman also spoke to the importance of supporting the next generation of trade talent in the ten ASEAN member nations. In her remarks, Hinman highlighted the importance of intergenerational networks of female support in the workplace: “Everyone one in this room has either started, accelerated, or has been a beneficiary of the awesome network of female trade professionals,” Hinman said. “The point of the ‘Building Trade Ties with ASEAN’s Emerging Female Leaders’ program is to seed that kind of dynamic professional network in the ASEAN region.”

Following her remarks, Ambassador Tai also answered audience questions.

A video of the event is available here, and transcripts of the speakers' remarks are available below. (Please note that the following transcript is not guaranteed to be perfectly accurate. Please check all quotations against the video recording before publishing.)

Singapore’s Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mirpuri

"Good evening. Welcome to the Singapore Embassy, and a particularly warm welcome to Ambassador Katherine Tai.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for allowing me to speak this evening, because it was actually meant to be a women's event, but because it was a trade event, they said you might as well do it as well. And I'm particularly honored that you've chosen to do this at the Singapore Embassy here in Washington D.C.

I would like to congratulate the Asia Society Policy Institute and Silverado Policy Accelerator for launching this inaugural professional development program for emerging leaders from ASEAN. It's particularly relevant that you are focusing on trade and trade ties between the U.S. and ASEAN. The Southeast Asia region is looking forward to greater economic engagement with the United States.

Let me speak briefly about gender equality and inclusion in ASEAN and women's empowerment in Singapore. In our region, despite considerable progress, women still continue to face hurdles posed by pervasive social norms and traditional gender expectations. Women in ASEAN generally have lower levels of labor participation are concentrated in lower skilled vulnerable jobs, often in the informal sector, and are paid less for the same work.

COVID has not helped and [has] made these gender and social inequalities even more prevalent. And advancing these gender equality means extra for GDP. It’s not just about the idea of equality. It really makes sense in terms of sustainable development and economic development. And it's a focus of all ASEAN member countries.

What needs to be done and what the government's are doing is trying to codify legislation to ensure fair workplace practices and increased opportunities for women in the workplace. Businesses obviously can play a role and champion the values and ethos to support equal participation in the region, and between ASEAN and the U.S. as well. We do have an ASEAN gender mainstreaming strategic framework, where action such as the development of regional plan of action to advance women peace and security agenda addressed. In Singapore, even as a globalized city, things are not always as inclusive as we'd like it to be. We do have this vision of a fairer and more inclusive society, where men and women can partners equals, but it's still sometimes a work in progress. That's why in 2021, the government celebrated it as a year of Singapore women, and it concluded a year of conversations on Singapore Women's Development to understand Singaporeans’ aspirations and ideas of how to further advance women in Singapore.

Informed by these year long conversations and insights, the government developed the white paper on Singapore's Women's Development, the first whole of society review. I'm happy to share that earlier this month. The Singapore Parliament endorsed the white paper on the day in fact that Ambassador Tai met the prime minister at Parliament House, because there was a day-long debate about that white paper and it signals a promising start towards a more fair and inclusive society. That white paper sets out 25 collective actions by the government and the community. There'll be a midpoint review, and that will be conducted in 2027. And it means to conclude that work by in 10 years time.

So having this program is really quite important even for a place like Singapore. And to conclude, I'd like to applaud this initiative by ASPI and the opportunity allows for female leaders from ASEAN. I'd like to win to welcome my friend Wendy Cutler, Vice President of ASPI and managing director of the Washington office to come up and deliver remarks. Well, Wendy, please."

Wendy Cutler, Vice President at the Asia Society Policy Institute

"Well, thank you very much, Ambassador Mirpuri and your team at the embassy. You've been such great partners, not only for this event, but to the Asia Society throughout the years, and we're extremely grateful.

We're glad to have a great turnout today. And with so many close friends and colleagues, and I see some folks in the audience, including a former boss of mine, Ambassador Carla Hills—she trained me early on in my career—and other friends from USTR, the National Security Council, the State Department, and the ambassadors from Australia, Cambodia and Indonesia. Thank you so much for joining us. And Ambassador Ted Osius—hopefully you're here. Yes. Oh, my God, you are! Thanks for joining us as well.

So now on to the program. As Ambassador Mirpuri emphasized, ASEAN is one of the world's most dynamic and diverse regions in the world. Trade has really driven its development and its prosperity, and ASEAN economies have made great strides in expanding opportunities for women to participate in the workforce while continuing to open doors for women to help shape the region's future.

However, challenges do remain in bridging the gender gap. In legislatures around ASESN, women only account for 20 percent of the positions. And in the private sector, women comprise only about one quarter of middle and senior managerial positions. And moreover, only about 55 percent of women in the ASEAN region participate in the labor force compared with almost 80 percent for men. And of the women in the labor force, as Ambassador Mirpuri emphasized, about two thirds are in the informal sector, which has been disproportionately hurt by COVID.

To be clear, though, these challenges are not unique to ASEAN. The United States and others have considerable progress to make as well. And as noted by the McKinsey Global Institute, Southeast Asian countries have moved closer to achieving gender parity than their neighbors in East and South Asia. The WTO Director General Ngozi recently stated that women must be at the front and center in the economy and in trade as we seek to recover from the pandemic. And I couldn't agree more.

So today, the Asia Society Policy Institute is pleased to launch “Building Trade Ties with ASEAN’S Emerging Female Leaders.” This initiative aims to support the professional development of ASEAN’s next generation of female trade negotiators and experts by providing training and mentorship opportunities. The program will culminate this fall with a 10-day-long program in the United States, starting in Washington D.C. and going to New York and then to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, featuring workshops and briefings with trade experts, current and former government officials and female leaders in the finance technology and media sectors.

Believe it or not, we've received over 120 applications from all over the region. And from there, we're going to select 14 finalists, which is proving very difficult because as we look through these applications, the credentials are amazing and the enthusiasm that comes through their applications is evident. We're currently pursuing similar programs with Japan and Korea. And our vision is to bring all these women together in Asia and help really establish the network. The Silverado Policy Accelerator shares our vision and we are grateful for the support they're offering for the program.

And it's my pleasure now to introduce Maureen Hinman Silverado’s co-founder and executive chair to offer a few comments."

Maureen Hinman, Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Silverado Policy Accelerator

"Thank you so much Wendy, it is such a pleasure to be here standing before all of you today.

When I founded the Silverado Policy Accelerator a little under two years ago, I wanted to make sure that we focused not only on advancing the best policy solutions for our most pressing global challenges but that our work also helped create career pathways for the next generation of leaders.

As I sit in this room today, I am reminded of the importance of that component to our mission and here’s why. Among us today are current and former U.S. Trade Representatives, current and former negotiators, current business leaders, Ambassadors, think-tank wonks, and young trade policy professionals. This means that everyone one in this room has either started, accelerated, or has been a beneficiary of the awesome network of female trade professionals in Washington.

In fact, I am here today because my friend, mentor, and former Assistant USTR, Jennifer Prescott, asked her mentor and friend, the formidable negotiator Wendy Cutler, to meet with then AUSTR Prescott’s staff to workshop negotiating strategies. I know my own career has been more successful, by an order of magnitude, because of the interventions and support of other women in the field, whether that was gaming-out a strategy for an upcoming trade round or figuring out how to juggle a baby, a pregnancy, and a full-time job at USTR (emphasis on full-time) – true story.

Humor aside, we all know that the network of women — those who have gone before us, are coming along with us, or are coming up behind us — is instrumental to all of our collective success both as negotiators and as women working to build a more inclusive global economy while juggling big professional and personal responsibilities.

And the point of the Asia Society Policy Institute’s program to “Build Trade Ties with ASEAN’s Emerging Female Leaders” is to seed the kind of dynamic professional network in the ASEAN region we benefit from here in Washington.

Today we have the distinct pleasure of having Ambassador Katherine Tai with us, to launch this program.

Ambassador Tai, has kept workers and female workers top of mind in developing and executing our Trade Policy Agenda. I recall the wave of excitement that coursed through the Washington trade community when Ambassador Tai, was nominated for the top job. That excitement was not only because, Ambassador Tai has a reputation as one of the most brilliant minds in trade, but because she has an established brand as trusted broker on a range of trade issues relevant to women including those related to labor and environment.

I cannot think of a better female leader to kick-off this important effort and it is my honor to introduce, the 19th United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai. Following her remarks, she will take a few questions from the audience.

Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Tai to the podium."

Ambassador Tai, U.S. Trade Representative

"Good evening, everyone.  Thank you, Wendy, for that kind introduction and for putting together this important event.  I also want to thank Ambassador Mirpuri for hosting tonight’s event at the Embassy.

Singapore is one of our most important trading partners not just in the Indo-Pacific region, but in the world.

I visited Singapore for the first time two weeks ago.  During my two days there, I met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, my Singapore trade counterpart, Minister Gan, and had a number of productive ministerial-level meetings, including with Environment and Sustainability Minister Grace Fu.

It is fitting that we gather at the Singaporean Embassy to discuss the importance of empowering women in ASEAN Member States and lifting up female leaders in the region.  Singapore has made noticeable progress in narrowing the gender gap and ushering in an era of greater empowerment and equality for women:

  • During its 2020 elections, a record number of female candidates ran for office.
  • As a result, today nearly 30 percent of the seats in Singapore’s Parliament are represented by women, compared to 20 percent of parliamentary seats across ASEAN Member States and 27 percent of seats in the United States Congress.
  • Women are taking on more leadership roles in Singapore, as evidenced by Minister Fu leading the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment and Minister Teo leading the Ministry of Communications and Information.

Still, we all know there is more work to do for us and for the ASEAN countries.  In February, ASEAN and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women published the “ASEAN Gender Outlook.”  The report offers a look at the progress ASEAN Member States have made towards gender equality, the region’s Sustainable Development Goals and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

Last October’s Joint Statement of the Fourth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women emphasized that: 'Women fulfill key roles in building and sustaining resilience, and…women, both in rural and urban settings, are not merely victims who are affected by the pandemic, disasters and changes in the climate: they are active agents for transformative change.'

Indeed, we must activate women across ASEAN to bring about that transformative change.  While we are seeing signs of progress – greater political representation, increased access to education – there is still a wide gap between our ambitions and reality.

That is why this gathering is so important.  It represents a commitment by all of us towards lifting up women and emerging leaders across the region.

Last year, I traveled to Seoul and joined a roundtable hosted by Ambassador Yoo, the first woman to hold the position of Minister for Trade in the Republic of Korea.  Our discussion featured an impressive group of women leaders in trade policy from the public and private sectors.

Together, we had a candid conversation about our shared experiences, the challenges we have encountered throughout our careers, and how we can be mentors to the next generation of leaders.  From that discussion, our Embassy in Seoul launched a new program to connect rising women leaders with mentors in their respective field.

These platforms and networks give us the space to forge genuine connections between the generations.  A woman just starting her career can benefit immensely by hearing the advice and wisdom of a peer with decades of experience.  I know this from firsthand experience:  throughout my career, I have had outstanding mentors and people who helped me professionally.  In turn, I love giving advice and serving as a sounding board for women, particularly AANHPI women.

The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade can be an important tool to advance our gender equity goals.  It is why USTR’s trade agenda incorporates the values and objectives of the President’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality.  We are proud to support ASEAN Member States that continue to push ahead to fulfill their SDGs and empower women to create that transformative change.

If we can accomplish that, the possibilities are truly endless.  ASEAN is collectively our fourth-largest trading partner and the region has a combined GDP of over $3.3 trillion.  Imagine what the possibilities for our trading relationship can be if women in the region have more representation and more economic opportunities.

In short, it is in all of our interests for women across ASEAN to succeed and thrive.

That is why we hosted an ASEAN-U.S. Best Practices Exchange on Women-owned Micro-, Small, and Medium-sized enterprises and E-Commerce in March to share ideas on how our trade agenda can help women-owned businesses benefit from the evolving digital economy.

It is why USTR organized a second ASEAN-U.S. Trade and Labor Dialogue to ensure that workers – including women workers – are included in the policymaking process.  By giving them a seat at the table, we can ensure the policy outcomes are more inclusive, more durable, and more equitable.

Our commitment to this issue is clear.  And we look forward to working with ASEAN and stakeholders, including all of you, to identify the next generation of great female trade leaders and entrepreneurs and advance sustainable economic growth.

And as a final point, I just want to say, with respect to those of us who work in trade policy, I think that there is a special connection with the empowerment of women and of those who have been underrepresented, and to overcome systemic and structural barriers. Because at the root of everything we do, our common principles are those of non-discrimination and of prosperity and opportunity for all. So I'm very, very proud to be a part of this conversation. With that I will turn things back over to Wendy as we explored some of these topics in greater detail. Thank you so much."


Trade and Industrial Security