TOKYO – President Joe Biden on Monday unveiled his plan for U.S. economic engagement in Asia, leaving 13 founding countries to work on how to implement their agreements and whether China could ever join.
Biden chose to make his first trip to Asia to officially unveil the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), although critics said it had done little to benefit countries in the region before it was announced.
The White House says the agreement does not provide any tariff relief to participating countries, including India, Malaysia and the Philippines, but provides a way to address issues ranging from climate change to supply chain resilience and digital trade.
Washington has lacked an economic pillar for Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump abandoned a multinational trans-Pacific trade deal, leaving the field open for Chinese influence.
Speaking at a launch event in Tokyo, Biden said, “The future of the 21st century economy is largely Indo-Pacific – in our region.” “We are writing new rules.”
Biden wants the agreement to raise environmental, labor and other standards across Asia. Other early founders are Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States.
But the founding nations need to discuss what standards they want to adhere to, how they will be enforced, whether their internal legislatures will approve them, and how to consider potential future members, including China, officials told reporters.
“This will increase access to money and technology sources,” said Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who attended the launch event via video. “It’s still a work in progress, with detailed consultations planned in the near future.”
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raymondo told reporters that the IPEF offered Asian countries “alternatives to China’s approach to these complex issues.”
China has not expressed any interest in joining the IPEF. Many of Washington’s criteria seek to make Beijing unhappy with such an agreement, a U.S. official said.
Also excluded from the initial discussion were Taiwan, who wanted to join.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that Taiwan would not be part of the IPEF launch, but that Washington wanted to deepen economic ties with the self-governing island, which China claims.
The IPEF, introduced Monday, is an attempt to salvage some of the benefits of participating in a broader trade agreement, such as Trump’s resignation, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). As TPP.
Trade and economics experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington say it is unclear how the Biden administration plans to achieve the IPEF target or what incentives it will be able to encourage cooperation.
In a briefing note, they said they had managed to attract more participants than expected by reducing barriers to participation in the launch without promising to enter the talks.
“However, these countries are only committed to a preliminary scoping round of negotiations, and it remains an open question whether this broad initial enthusiasm for the framework will continue once negotiations begin,” they wrote.
China applied to join the CPTPP in September. When Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met privately with Biden on Monday, he said he had told the US president that Washington should rejoin the trade deal.
US Trade Representative Katherine therefore said that the withdrawal of the TPP agreement from the United States was “something that was ultimately quite fragile.”
“The biggest problem with it was that we didn’t have the support at home to get it,” he said of the deal, adding that some would threaten U.S. jobs.
Beijing has been seen to take a vague view of the IPEF.
China welcomes supportive initiatives to strengthen regional cooperation, but “opposes any attempt to create divisions and conflicts,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. “Asia-Pacific should be a high ground for peaceful development, not a geopolitical gladiatorial area.”
(Reporting by Trevor Honeycutt and Elaine Lice in Tokyo; Additional reporting by David Brunstrom in Washington; Editing by Lisa Schumacher, Philip Fletcher and Howard Golar)