The 10-nation ASEAN is a market of 620 million people with a total GDP of more than $2.2 trillion. The "E3" initiative, launched at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, during the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama, is part of the administration's policy of rebalancing toward Asia-Pacific and was a major thrust of his three-nation Asia visit to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, his first foreign tour after his re-election earlier this month.
All three countries on Obama's itinerary are members of the ASEAN group, besides Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
The White House said the E3 is a "new framework for economic cooperation designed to expand trade and investment ties between the United States and ASEAN, creating new business opportunities and jobs in all eleven countries."
ASEAN is already the fourth-largest export market for the United States and was the fifth-largest trading partner last year.
During a media session Sunday in Bangkok, which was his first stop on the current tour, Obama, talking about the Asia-Pacific pivot, said "the United States is and always will be a Pacific nation."
He said Asia-Pacific is the fastest-growing region in the world and "will shape so much of our security and prosperity in the century ahead, and it is critical to creating jobs and opportunity for the American people. And that's why I've made restoring American engagement in this region a top priority as president."
The U.S. emphasis on Asia-Pacific comes as it winds down its operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and at a time of China's growing military might and its growing sovereign claims in the waters of the region that are raising concerns among its small neighbors.
The new E3 initiative would help identify specific cooperative activities to facilitate U.S.-ASEAN trade and investment, increase efficiency and competitiveness of trade flows and supply chains throughout the 10-nation block.
The E3 would be similar to the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the United States is negotiating with 10 countries in Asia and the Western Hemisphere.
The summit leaders, recognizing "the importance of enhancing U.S.-ASEAN ties," agreed to institutionalize such meetings to an annual Summit as a further step towards raising their partnership "to a strategic level."
The leaders discussed the importance of building the role and influence of the East Asia Summit so it can effectively address pressing political and strategic issues in the region.