US President Joe Biden launched his plan for US economic engagement in Asia, leaving it to the 13 founding countries, including Australia, to determine how to implement their agreements.
Mr Biden officially unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) on May 23, although critics said it offered little benefit to countries in the region even before its announcement.
The White House says the deal offers no tariff relief for countries that join – including India, Malaysia and the Philippines – but does offer a way to address issues ranging from climate change to climate resilience. supply chain and digital commerce.
Washington has lacked an economic backbone for its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trans-Pacific trade deal, leaving China free to expand its influence.
“The future of the 21st century economy is going to be largely written in the Indo-Pacific – in our region,” Biden said at a launch event in Tokyo.
“We are writing the new rules.”
Mr Biden wants the deal to raise environmental, labor and other standards across Asia.
Other initial founders are Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.
But those founding countries will have to negotiate what standards they want to meet, how they will be enforced, whether their national legislatures will have to ratify them and how to consider potential future members, including China, officials told reporters.
“It will improve access to funding sources and technology,” said Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who joined the launch event via video.
“This is still a work in progress, with detailed consultations planned for the near future.”
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that the IPEF presents Asian countries with “an alternative to China’s approach to these critical issues.”
China has expressed no interest in joining IPEF.
Many of the standards Washington wants would make such a deal unpleasant for Beijing, a US official said.
Taiwan, which wanted to join, was also excluded from the initial talks.
Mr Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that Taiwan would not be part of the IPEF launch.
Still, Washington is seeking to deepen economic ties with the self-governing island, which China claims.
The IPEF, introduced on Monday, is an attempt to salvage some of the benefits of participating in a broader trade deal like the one Trump left, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and was then known as TPP.
Trade and economics experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said it was unclear how the Biden administration planned to achieve IPEF goals or what incentives it would be able to provide. provide to encourage cooperation.
In a briefing note, they said lowering the barriers to participation in the launch by not requiring commitments to start negotiations succeeded in attracting more participants than might have been expected. expect otherwise.
“However, these countries have only committed to participate in an initial round of scope discussions, and whether this initial broad enthusiasm for the framework continues once negotiations begin remains an open question,” they said. they wrote.
When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met Biden privately on Monday, he said he told the US president that Washington should join the trade deal.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the TPP deal the U.S. abandoned “was ultimately something quite fragile.”
“The biggest problem was that we didn’t have the support at home to push it through,” she said of the deal.
Beijing seemed to have a low opinion of IPEF.
In a statement, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China welcomes initiatives conducive to strengthening regional cooperation but “opposes attempts to create division and confrontation”.
“Asia-Pacific should become a hotbed of peaceful development, not an arena of geopolitical gladiators.”