TOKYO: President Joe Biden launches his plan for U.S. economic engagement in Asia on Monday, leaving it to the 13 founding countries to work out how to enforce their agreements and if China could ever join.
Biden is unveiling the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) in Tokyo on his first trip in office to Asia.
The White House says the deal offers no tariff relief or market access to the countries that join but provides a way to sort through key issues from climate change to supply chain resilience and digital trade.
And it is critical to Biden's approach to counter what he sees as Washington's greatest competitor abroad, China. Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since former President Donald Trump quit a multinational trans-Pacific trade agreement, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.
"The launch," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, "marks an important turning point in restoring U.S. economic leadership in the region, and presenting Indo-Pacific countries an alternative to China's approach to these critical issues."
Biden wants the deal to raise environmental, labor and other standards across Asia. But the actual terms of any agreement will have to be negotiated by the initial countries joining talks: Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States.
Those countries will work together to negotiate what standards they wish to abide by, how they will be enforced, whether their domestic legislatures will need to ratify them and how to consider potential future members, including China, which is not taking part, officials told reporters.
Also left out of the initial talks is Taiwan, which wanted to join.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One that Taiwan would not be a part of the IPEF launch but that Washington is still looking to deepen its economic relationship with the self-governing island, which China claims.
In a later briefing, Sullivan said the process to include new members "will be part of those initial discussions" in coming weeks.
"On China, broadly speaking, what I just said would apply to that case."
The IPEF is an attempt to salvage some part of the benefits of participation in a broader trade agreement like the one Trump quit, which is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and then known as TPP but without the U.S. domestic political opposition to a deal that some fear would cost jobs.
"TPP, as it was envisioned, ultimately was something that was quite fragile," said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. "The biggest problem with it was that we did not have the support at home to get it through."
Beijing appeared to take a dim view of the planned IPEF.
China welcomes initiatives conducive to strengthening regional cooperation but "opposes attempts to create division and confrontation," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement. "The Asia-Pacific should become a high ground for peaceful development, not a geopolitical gladiatorial arena."
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Elaine Lies; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)