Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Thursday that a new US-backed economic pact is further proof of how important and relevant Asia is today. “Asia is still expanding and gaining more influence in terms of strategic and economic importance,” Prayuth said. US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced earlier in the week during a visit by Biden to Japan that 13 countries have joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a new trade pact that will help the United States work more closely with Asian economies on issues including supply chains, digital trade, clean energy and anticorruption efforts. The signatories are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. Together they represent 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. Thailand ‘kitchen of the world’ benefits from limited exports by neighbours Prayuth is in Tokyo to attend The Future of Asia organised by Nikkei Inc. He stressed the need to increase economic growth by keeping markets open and inclusive as the world faces disruptions such as the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Sustainable economic growth is only possible when we are able to adopt to any disruption,” Prayuth said. Thailand is the host of next year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit. Prayuth said Apec is at a critical juncture, with a need to achieve peace and drive economic growth. In the talks that began on Thursday, Kishida was also expected to express Japan’s cooperation for a successful Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting to be held in November in Bangkok chaired by Thailand. At the outset of the talks, which was open to the press, Kishida said: “I would like to exchange views on how we can further develop our bilateral relations and realise a free and open Indo-Pacific.” Japan has been trying to enhance ties with Southeast Asian countries to counter the growing political and economic clout of an assertive China. Kishida and Prayut signed an agreement earlier in the month in Bangkok on the mutual transfer of defence equipment and technology to deepen bilateral security cooperation.