The United States is looking to set up a new trade arrangement “with allies and friendly nations” in Asia, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said during a visit to Japan.
The US and Japan announced a new trade partnership to boost cooperation on labour, plus environmental and digital trade issues on Wednesday. They said the new arrangement has an emphasis on “third country concerns,” which was reported as a reference to China’s state-driven economic policies.
Tai told NHK in an interview that the new partnership with nations in the Indo-Pacific region could be launched as early as next year.
“Early next year, we are considering working with countries in the region to set up an economic framework, a framework with countries that share issues,” she was quoted as saying.
The Trade Representative said the US needed to make a “course correction” in the Asia-Pacific region the following the withdrawal from a trade pact – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – proposed by former president Barack Obama, but dumped in 2017 by his successor Donald Trump.
Japan’s foreign minister asked Tai to lead the US back into the trade pact that developed from the TPP after the US withdrawal. It is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
While Tai has been in Tokyo this week to discuss the new trade partnership, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has been in Kuala Lumpur working on a plan to improve semiconductor supplies.
‘Not A Typical Trade Deal’
Raimondo said on Thursday the United States’ planned Indo-Pacific economic framework would be inclusive and flexible – but not set up like a typical free trade deal.
In a teleconference call during her visit to Malaysia, Raimondo said discussions on the framework were in preliminary stages, but could involve several key areas including the digital economy, supply chain resiliency, infrastructure, export control, and clean energy.
“We absolutely do not envision this to be a traditional trade agreement, absolutely do not envision it to require Congress to be involved,” she said, adding that the US would develop the framework with allies in the months to come.
A Commerce Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters on Friday that no formal proposals have been put together about what the framework would include or what its precise legal structure could be.
“We do expect it would be developed in close consultation and through robust engagement with a number of stakeholders, especially Congress, as we continue to define our goals and desired outcomes for the framework,” the spokesperson said.
On Wednesday, she said an Indo-Pacific economic framework could be launched at the start of next year. Her Asia visit aimed to lay the groundwork for potential partnerships.
Critics of US strategy for the region have pointed to its lack of an economic component after Trump withdrew from the TPP.
• Jim Pollard, with Reuters.
This report was updated with further details on Friday November 19.