The United States is focused on a new Indo-Pacific economic engagement initiative to establish rules that will bring regional prosperity and is beyond a "traditional trade agreement."
The initiative is expected to go "beyond a traditional trade agreement," US Trade Representative Katherine Tai emphasized in an online event organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank in Washington, adding that trade is only "one component in a larger program."
"What we're really trying to do is -- in partnership with these other countries -- to establish rules to create workstreams" that will allow members to promote "sustainability, resilience, and inclusive prosperity for our economies and for this region," Tai said.
Official negotiations on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework are set to start on Thursday in Los Angeles, when Tai and US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo sit down with their counterparts from 13 other participating countries, including Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal.
Responding to criticism on how the economic framework will not be a traditional free trade agreement involving tariff-cutting commitments and scepticism around the benefits of becoming part of the framework, Minister Goyal told ANI "Trade is being discussed for open trade for keeping supply chains open. But effectively, there's no market access that is out there on the table."
The minister is on a six-day visit to San Francisco and Los Angeles and will hold bilaterals with Tai and Raimondo on the sidelines of the IPEF ministerial meeting.
The launch of the IPEF was announced jointly by the US and other partner countries of the Indo-Pacific region on the sidelines of the Tokyo Quad Summit in May and is likely to pave the way for the official kickoff of negotiations centering on four pillars -- trade, supply chain resilience, infrastructure and clean energy, and tax and anti-corruption.
In addition to the United States, IPEF includes Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. In a show of flexibility, members can choose to join any of the four pillars individually. Attention is growing as to which country will join which pillar.
"We are laser-focused on supply-chain resilience. We're focused on ensuring bringing stability and resilience to our supply chains, especially in countries that are integral to producing and moving critical products," a senior administration official said on Wednesday about IPEF.
The official also told reporters that supply chain issues are "where we're really seeing countries respond to wanting to partner with the United States."
The two-day meeting is expected to produce a joint statement that agrees on specific actions participating countries are required to take.
When asked whether the framework was US way meant to counter China, Minister Goyal said that the initiative was about "partnership amongst like-minded, rules based countries" "It's about all those who fall in that definition, who have transparent economic systems are all welcome to join," Goyal asserted.
Experts believe that while the key motivation for the US is indeed countering China, another senior administration official said that IPEF was not meant as a way to choose between US and China but promote "long-term inclusive growth" in the region.