US President Joe Biden will launch a long-awaited economic initiative for increasing US involvement in Asia in the coming days during his trip to the region, according to one of the cabinet officials leading the initiative.
The US and its partners will kick off the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) when Biden visits Japan on a May 20-24 trip that also will take him to South Korea, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.
President Yoon Suk Yeol has shown support for the grouping and is expected to announce his government's intention to join the framework when he speaks with Biden in Seoul on Saturday, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
The Commerce Department is leading negotiation of pillars of the framework focused on supply-chain resilience; clean energy, decarbonisation and infrastructure; and taxation and anti-corruption. The US Trade Representative's office is leading the work on fair and resilient trade. The administration also has been working to include digital issues like data localisation and cross-border data flows.
The IPEF is part of the Biden administration's efforts to counter China's clout in Asia, following the US's withdrawal from talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement under former President Donald Trump.
"We do we have a great deal of enthusiasm about this," Raimondo told reporters on a virtual call on Tuesday. "I have spent a lot of time talking to our counterparts in the Indo-Pacific, and there's a large demand by them for the United States to be more present and to have an affirmative economic strategy."
Raimondo announced work on the plan in November after talks with Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan.
Some details of the IPEF are hazy and the Biden administration has stressed it won't include lower tariffs or better access to US markets. Some in Congress have criticised the plan as lacking substance, with senators from both parties blasting Biden's trade agenda at a March hearing and grilling US Trade Representative Katherine Tai over a shortage of ambition to negotiate new agreements.
Robert Ward, Japan chair and director of geo-economics and strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said IPEF would not serve as an effective replacement for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which eventually replaced TPP. China is now seeking to join that framework.
"What is this IPEF really? It's a sort of place-filler," Ward told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan last week. "In terms of economic statecraft in the Indo-Pacific, the Biden administration is lacking and China's making a lot of the running."
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