US commerce secretary hails progress at year's first meeting of Indo-Pacific trade grouping

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has praised the progress made by the 14 countries in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity after the group held a ministerial meeting to discuss proposed guidelines for regional commerce

Grant Peck
Thursday 14 March 2024 14:43 GMT

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Thursday praised the progress made by the 14 countries in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity after the group held a ministerial meeting Thursday to discuss proposed guidelines for regional commerce.

Raimondo was in the Thai capital Bangkok to take part in the virtual meeting, the year's first for the grouping. She is on an Asia tour that also took her to the Philippines this week with a private sector delegation to promote trade, investment and the diversification of global supply chains, especially for semiconductors.

Washington launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, in May 2022 to establish a zone of economic cooperation in a region that is estimated to account for 40% of global GDP.

Its members are Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.

The group is supposed to uphold four pillars: trade, supply chains, clean economy and fair economy. The goal is to advance resilience, sustainability, inclusiveness, economic growth, fairness and competitiveness for those economies involved, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Raimondo commended progress on documents setting guidelines for the latter three pillars — supply chain, clean economy and fair economy, according to a statement issued by the U.S. Commerce Department.

But the statement notably made no mention of the first pillar, trade, which has not been substantially addressed by the group.

Open market access would benefit most Asian members, but could be politically unfeasible for U.S. President Joe Biden, who must rely heavily on support from voters in swing states where industries would likely suffer from expanded free trade policies.

For their part, many Asian members see little benefit in implementing tighter labor and environmental standards that could effect their export prospects.

The supply chain challenges to be addressed by the group include shortages of essential products caused by crises, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Clean economy measures promote effort on climate action, such as net-zero emissions and sustainable growth. Fair economy measures aim “to create a more transparent, predictable trade and investment environment” by combating corruption and enforcing labor laws, among other actions.

Raimondo sounded optimistic despite the lack of movement on the trade pillar.

“I continue to be amazed by the energy and collaborative spirit that each of our IPEF partners brings to the table and by how much we have accomplished together in such a short amount time. This framework did not exist less than two years ago,” she said, according to the Commerce Department statement.

“It’s clear that the next phase of IPEF will continue to deliver concrete results for each of our economies," she said.

The group’s next top-level meeting is scheduled to see the ministers involved meet in person in Singapore on June 6.

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