On Monday, President Joe Biden launched his plan for US economic engagement in Asia, leaving it to the 13 founding countries to work out how to enforce their agreements and whether China could ever join.
Biden's first trip to Asia was to launch the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity IPEF, although critics said it offered little benefit to countries in the region even before it was announced.
The White House says that the deal does not give any tariff relief to the countries that join, including India, Malaysia and the Philippines, but it also provides a way to sort through issues ranging from climate change to supply chain resilience and digital trade.
Washington has lacked an economic pillar to its Indo-Pacific engagement since President Donald Trump left a multinational trans-Pacific trade agreement, leaving the field open to China to expand its influence.
Biden said at a launch event in Tokyo that the future of the 21st Century economy is going to be largely written in the Indo-Pacific. Biden wants to raise environmental, labour, and other standards across Asia. The founders are Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States.
But those founding countries will need to negotiate what standards they want to follow, how they will be enforced, whether their domestic legislatures will need to ratify them and how to consider potential future members, including China, officials told reporters.
The Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who joined the launch event by video, said this will increase access to sources of finance and technology. It is still a work in progress, with detailed consultations planned in the near future. In a recent interview, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that the IPEF presents Asian countries with an alternative to China's approach to the critical issues. China has expressed no interest in joining the IPEF. A US official said that Washington wants to make such a deal unpalatable to Beijing because of many of the standards that Washington wants to make such a deal.
Taiwan wanted to join, but was left out of the initial talks.
Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters that Taiwan would not be part of the IPEF launch, but Washington is looking to deepen economic ties with the self-governing island, which China claims.
The IPEF, introduced on Monday, is an attempt to salvage some of the benefits of participation in a broader trade agreement like the one Trump left, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership CPTPP and was then known as the TPP.
Trade and economics experts at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies said it was not clear how the Biden administration would achieve IPEF objectives or what incentives it would be able to give to encourage cooperation.