U.S. President Joe Biden Thursday hailed a new economic agreement among 14 Asia Pacific countries aimed at countering China’s regional economic dominance, saying the deal leaders signed at a summit of regional economies – which is not a formal trade agreement – will address key issues such as future semiconductor shortages by improving supply chain resilience.
The goal of the new pact, said the 14 leaders in a joint statement, is to “promote workers’ rights, increase our capacity to prevent and respond to supply chain disruptions, strengthen our collaboration on the transition to clean economies, and combat corruption and improve the efficiency of tax administration.”
Biden, speaking Thursday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, acknowledged that negotiators failed to reach consensus on a key pillar of last year’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
“We still have more work to do, but we’ve made substantial progress,” he said. “In record time we’ve reached consensus on three of the pillars of the IPEF.” The IPEF has four pillars, summarized as trade, supply chains, clean energy and infrastructure, and tax and anti-corruption.
Biden also announced a program to work with startup businesses to raise capital. That effort is based on the U.S. Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which is seen as the U.S. answer to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
In highlighting the plan, Biden also emphasized the importance of the U.S. private sector.
“You’ve heard every one of my colleagues say one time or another that this can’t be done without trillions of dollars of private sector investment to get hold of this and get hold of it quickly to give them confidence to make those investments,” Biden said. “That’s going to create a pipeline of projects in partner countries and then match private sector financing with these projects, and it’s going to give those private sector investors confidence that their investment will be made according to the highest standards. Government investment is not enough. We need to mobilize private investment.”
Critics say the new economic agreement lacks market access provisions.
“For a country like us, we have to have at least market access,” Indonesian CEO Anindya Bakrie told VOA on the sidelines of the summit.
Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, said most Southeast Asian states are “tepid” about the deal.
The bottom line, he said, is, “It’s not a trade deal, and the U.S. is not offering any market access in IPEF. And the Southeast Asian states can contrast that with actual trade deals that have been passed in Asia over the last seven years, including major, major trade deals that involve China, South Korea, Japan, and other big economies, as well as ASEAN being in the middle of that.”
However, he said, “they’re not going to say to the United States coming in with IPEF over the last couple of years, we reject this. They’re cordial and they do want a greater U.S. security presence.”
Siobhan Das, executive director of the American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce, took a rosier view.
“I actually believe it’s been successful already,” she said. “You’ve had 14 nations talking to each other for the last 18 months – how can that not be a success?”
Zack Cooper, a specialist in U.S. strategy in Asia at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA on Thursday, as the 14 leaders smiled and posed for a photo, that “everyone agrees that the Indo Pacific economic framework is probably the best the Biden administration is going to do for now.”
“But it certainly doesn’t mean that they’re happy with IPEF or that they’re going to be satisfied with the version of IPEF they’re getting at APEC, which does not include trade,” he said. “And so it’s probably better than nothing.”