President Joe Biden launched a new trade deal with 12 Indo-Pacific nations aimed at strengthening their economies. Biden, speaking at a news conference in Japan, said the pact is designed to raise the economic profile of the U.S. and create a counter to China within Asia.
The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is a broad plan for the region. The group wants to set international rules on the digital economy, supply chains, clean energy, worker protections and anti-corruption efforts.
Nations joining the U.S. in the pact include Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Along with the United States, they represent 40% of world GDP.
Critics say the framework has gaping shortcomings. It doesn’t offer incentives to prospective partners by lowering tariffs or provide signatories with greater access to U.S. markets. Those limitations may not make the U.S. framework an attractive alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which moved forward without the U.S. after former President Donald Trump pulled out of that agreement. China, the largest trading partner for many in the region, is also seeking to join TPP.
“I think a lot of partners are going to look at that list and say: ‘That’s a good list of issues. I’m happy to be involved,’” said Matthew Goodman, a former director for international economics on the National Security Council during President Barack Obama’s administration. But he said they also may ask, “Are we going to get any tangible benefits out of participating in this framework?”
The launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework has been billed by the White House as one of the bigger moments of Biden’s Asia trip and of his ongoing effort to bolster ties with Pacific allies. Through it all, administration officials have kept a close eye on China’s growing economic and military might in the region.
Biden also issued a stern warning to China over Taiwan, saying the U.S. would respond militarily if China were to invade the self-ruled island.
“That’s the commitment we made,” Biden said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.