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Biden unveils a US-Asia trade initiative that falls short of a free trade deal

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Still, the White House is promoting it as the main economic accomplishment of Biden’s trip to Seoul and Tokyo. Administration officials promise, for example, that the group of countries will eventually be able to prevent supply chain problems by communicating better and that it will draft rules to better regulate and integrate technology.

But without anything written or agreed to, that remains a hope more than a promise.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that this is “the beginning — to begin and get to work and discuss the next steps ahead as we negotiate the specific terms and develop the details of this framework and establishing a new approach to regional economic engagement.”

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said the fact that the new framework is not a traditional trade deal is a feature, not a bug.

“There are free trade traditionalists who have raised questions about it,” he said. “Our fundamental view is that the new landscape and the new challenges we face need a new approach.”

Katherine Tai, the top U.S. trade representative, acknowledged that the main reason the U.S. is not rejoining the Obama-era trade deal is political.


“The biggest problem is that we did not have the support at home to get it through” Congress, she said. “There’s a very, very strong lesson there.”

The lesson, she said, was that the old deal was “quite fragile” because the U.S. could not deliver on its promises, which included lowering tariffs on imports, and that its collapse helped inform the current thinking in trying to create a deal that goes beyond trade alone.

Officials argue that a lack of consistency in rules and regulations has become as big a trade barrier as tariffs, and that the new framework would address that problem.

In addition to the U.S., the 12 countries that have signed on so far are Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

“Let’s see where these negotiations take us,” Tai said.

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