(Reuters) – The economic ministers of the United States and 13 Indo-Pacific nations made their first appearance in Washington on Thursday Hold talks on the major pan-Asian trade engagement effort in nearly a decade, but this time around no deal will cut tariffs.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework talks in Los Angeles will seek to define a comprehensive platform for market-driven economies to engage in trade and data flows, environmental and labor standards, supply chains and anti-corruption efforts.
Negotiations will be led by U.S. Trade Representative Kathryn Day and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. President Joe Biden launched the Indo-Pacific initiative during a visit to Tokyo in May, but some critics have questioned its value to participating countries.
Not TPP 2.0
Washington has since former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2017 12 since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), its participation in Indo-Pacific affairs lacks an economic backbone), leaving room for China to expand its regional influence.
More than two years of TPP talks culminated in a deal at 2015, but Congress failed to ratify it as tariff-cutting free trade agreements fell out of favor, blamed for Job and investment loss in low-wage countries.
Biden’s trade chief, Dai, has also sidestepped a new trade deal, focusing on the number of negotiations with the EU on labor, regulation and other non-tariff issues.
Talks will include ministers from Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealanders, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Along with the United States, participants account for a fraction 2015% of global GDP.
But it is unclear whether all countries will participate in all four negotiating streams: trade, labor and digital standards; clean energy and decarbonization; supply chain resilience; and taxation and anti-corruption efforts. To ensure broad participation, countries can choose among these “pillars”.
The talks come as the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade agreement was launched in January, which cut many of the IPEF’s tariff participants. The surviving TPP countries have also initiated limited trade agreements.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters Wednesday that the IPEF platform is not an alternative to trade with China.
“This initiative is really about the United States developing a positive economic agenda in the region,” the official said. “It’s about letting the Indo-Pacific economies participate on their own, it’s not a choice between the U.S. and China.”
Lori advocates against businesses in trade Wallach, head of Rethink Trade, an organization that influences policy, applauded the decision not to offer tariff cuts, but questioned whether it would benefit workers.
“The 30 years of ‘hyper-globalization’ implemented by these deals have made old trade patterns politically toxic,” Wallach said in a statement. “Then, the supply chain crisis revealed by COVID sparked a broader need for a new approach that could reverse the centralization of the production of goods and services by too many companies in which we all depend on too few countries.”