SMILING LEADER United States President Joe Biden speaks during a reception for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (not in photo) in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, May 16, 2022 (May 17 in Manila). AFP PHOTO
SMILING LEADER United States President Joe Biden speaks during a reception for Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (not in photo) in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. on Monday, May 16, 2022 (May 17 in Manila). AFP PHOTO

NEW YORK CITY: The administration of United States President Joe Biden used last week's US-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Special Summit to talk up his forthcoming Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which tries to make up for Washington's new unwillingness to negotiate the kind of market-opening trade deals Asian leaders like, according to a Foreign Policy report.

First floated last year, the IPEF was conceived by US officials to fill the hole left in Washington's Indo-Pacific strategy when Biden's predecessor Donald Trump walked out of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in 2017, said a recent report by James Crabtree, a columnist at the US news publication.

Biden and his team are "by, all accounts, set against the CPTPP, seeing such trade deals as a sure route to domestic political calamity. Hence, the IPEF: designed to suggest some kind of positive economic agenda but, in truth, a thin replacement that will do little to slow down most Asian nations' ever deeper economic integration with China," it added.

"IPEF omens are not promising," said Crabtree, also the executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia. The framework focuses on areas varying from supply chain resilience and clean energy to taxation and corruption, as well as new rules for "fair and resilient" trade, such as asking partners to sign up to high labor standards.

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Because the Biden administration has promised to protect American workers and producers, which requires shielding them from foreign competition, the IPEF offers no US market access.

For Southeast Asian nations, "it's an all-pain, no-gain economic deal," he added.

Long-term commitment

The report comes after Biden promised during the two-day summit a long-term commitment to Southeast Asia in the face of China's growing clout.

He laid out $150 million in new initiatives and announced a plan to nominate Yohannes Abraham, chief of staff of the US National Security Council, as the first American ambassador to the Asean in more than five years.

A region that "is free and open, stable and prosperous, and resilient and secure is what we're all seeking," Biden told the Southeast Asian leaders.

Those who attended were Asean Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei Darussalam Sultan Haji Hassan, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long, Lao People's Democratic Republic Prime Minister Phankham Viphavan, Malaysian Prime Minister Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob and Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

US Vice President Kamala Harris, meeting Asean leaders for a working lunch, said the Biden administration "recognizes the vital strategic importance of your region."

"As an Indo-Pacific nation, the US will be present and continue to be engaged in Southeast Asia for generations to come," she said.

WITH Agence France-Presse