United States, Indo–Pacific Nations Launch Negotiations on Economic Framework

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The United States and 13 Asian nations on Sept. 9 concluded the first round of in-person meetings for the Indo–Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) with a consensus on ministerial statements for four key pillars.

The U.S. Commerce Department said the 14 IPEF member nations, which represent over 40 percent of the global economy, have outlined four key pillars focusing on trade, supply chain resilience, clean energy, and fair economy.

The talks in Los Angeles included ministers from Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the Biden administration launched the IPEF in May to develop “a modern economic arrangement” that will protect labor rights, combat climate change, and build resilient supply chains.

“After several days of intensive discussions, we have made real progress toward that goal. And the ministerial statements demonstrate our innovation and ambition,” Tai said in her closing speech.

“Our intention now is to move towards negotiations with our partners on each pillar, with the first round of discussions taking place after this ministerial,” she added.

The IPEF will not include tariff cuts that are the bedrock of traditional free trade deals, but the talks are part of a U.S. effort to re-engage economically with countries in Asia.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was also present at the meeting, said that a second ministerial IPEF meeting is expected to take place early in 2023, though she did not provide a specific date.

India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that India will join three pillars of the framework focusing on supply chains, tax and anti-corruption, and clean energy, but will opt out of the trade pillar for now.

“On one pillar, which deals primarily with trade, the contours of the framework—particularly on commitments required on the environment, labor, digital trade, and public procurement—are still emerging,” Goyal said in a statement.

“We have to see what benefits member countries will derive and whether any conditionalities on aspects like the environment may discriminate against developing countries who have the imperative to provide low cost and affordable energy to meet the needs of our growing economy,” he added.

Goyal noted that India would wait for the final contours to be decided while continuing to engage with the trade track in IPEF, as the country was still in the process of firming up its digital framework and laws.

The U.S.-led IPEF is supposed to fill the void left after the United States withdrew from the Trans–Pacific Partnership.

President Joe Biden said in May that the initiative seems to reassert American dominance in the face of increasing Chinese influence in the region, and will focus on matters related to “ensuring economic competitiveness in the 21st century.”

Naveen Athrappully and Reuters contributed to this report.

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