DAVID RISING, Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — As every world economy has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic for more than two years, and global supply issues are exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has an “incredible opportunity” to engage with other countries on a common playing field and forge new partnerships and negotiate, the top US trade negotiator told the Associated Press on Friday.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai arrived in Thailand for a meeting with trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group on the same day that President Joe Biden began his Asian visit to South Korea.
The two are due to meet in Japan, where they are to announce plans for a new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that Tai says will first and foremost demonstrate “the continued commitment of the United States as a partner to the countries of this region,” as Washington wants. to contain growing Chinese influence.
“This is a robust and holistic approach to the economy and investing in each other that we bring,” she said.
Political cartoons of world leaders
This will include commitments to supply chain stability, clean energy, decarbonisation, taxes and anti-corruption measures, she said.
Even before the announcement expected on Monday, Japan welcomed the initiative, expressing its support on Friday and saying it was considering joining.
Tokyo still worries about the US decision in 2017 under then-President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and played a key role in bringing together the other 11 members of that pact, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Noriyuki Shikata, Japan’s cabinet secretary for public relations, said that because IPEF is expected to be less focused on market access and tariffs, Tokyo is still hopeful that the US will join the TPP, although Washington has said it is not. will happen.
But even though it doesn’t promise greater access to US markets as in traditional trade agreements, IPEF will still have an opportunity-enhancing effect, Tai said.
“We are not discussing and negotiating tariff liberalization,” she said. “But in layman’s terms, when we talk about market access and market opportunities, that’s absolutely what’s part of our conversation.”
Tai, who is seen as a problem-solving pragmatist in trade policy, said the focus of US policy has shifted from globalization for the sake of globalization to something that puts the safety and interests of workers and consumers first.
Prior to her appointment to the USTR, Tai was the chief trade adviser to the House Ways and Means Committee, where she negotiated a revamped trade deal with North America.
One of the key goals was to change the pact to make it easier for Mexican workers to form independent unions and demand higher wages and benefits. This could reduce incentives for US companies to move their production south of the border to take advantage of cheaper labor.
With all the current disruptions to the global economy, including the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has caused food and fuel prices to rise, she told colleagues she spoke to at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, which is currently meeting in Thailand with was enthusiastic about the idea of a new economic structure that could help workers and businesses.
“I don’t think anyone’s economy has gotten stronger because of COVID, and there’s a pretty widespread sense of anxiety about how we’re going to recover,” she said. “I really think it’s an incredible opportunity.”
She said her peers have spoken about the need for “sustainability, resilience and inclusiveness”.
“To the extent that we are all looking for these themes in our economic policy right now, I think we have a huge opportunity to come together to create a set of parameters in our global economy so that we can build a new economic world. an order that is more adaptive, more inclusive and more sustainable for our planet and for our people.”
She said the US in Asia is “very, very focused on our competition with China” and that the structure is also seen as an effective counterweight to Beijing’s growing influence.
“The United States will always pursue economic engagement based on our values, which is openness, to our market and our economy, and to our society,” she said. “Therefore, the nature of the participation we bring will be different in nature from China’s participation in the region. I think it’s an important part of the US presence in the region that we bring a market-based and open approach.”
Tai advocates a comprehensive approach to current trade issues with China and rejects calls from US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to eliminate some Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods to combat domestic inflation in the United States.
She said she sees tariffs as “a tool in the policy toolbox” that could be considered, but along with “many other tools at our disposal.”
“It is critical for us to ensure that this medium-term strategic overhaul that we know we need to do is something that we can do and that nothing we do in the short term undermines that big goal. ” she said.
“We cannot afford to come out of this very difficult time by putting ourselves in a more vulnerable position in the United States than we were before we entered this period.”
Associated Press writer Elaine Kurtenbach of Tokyo contributed to the story.
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