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International relations

Japan seeks quick start to U.S.-led Indo-Pacific economic framework

Allies to work with 'like-minded countries' for Washington's alternative to CPTPP

Port of Long Beach in California. The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is part of U.S. President Joe Biden's push to build an economic sphere in the region to rival China's.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON -- Top Japanese and American economic officials have called for speedy implementation of Washington's proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, as the U.S. seeks partners for an economic bloc to counter China's growing influence.

"We agreed that we should bring together as many like-minded countries as possible and launch it in the near future," Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda told reporters after meeting Wednesday with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

"We welcome greater [U.S.] economic involvement in the Indo-Pacific," he said. "We want to contribute to making the IPEF a reality."

Raimondo "expressed her gratitude to Minister Hagiuda and the government of Japan" for their support of the initiative, according to a Commerce Department readout.

The framework, announced by U.S. President Joe Biden in October, aims to build an economic sphere in the region to rival China's, through trade and supply chain cooperation with Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Washington also looks to put decarbonization and measures on taxes and combating corruption at the center of the initiative.

Koichi Hagiuda, Japan's trade minister, meets with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington on May 4. (Photo courtesy of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)

The Biden administration put the proposal forward as an alternative to U.S. participation in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Washington withdrew from negotiations on that deal in 2017 while it was still known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and domestic opposition remains strong.

But unlike the CPTPP, the IPEF does not go as far as pushing for lower tariffs. There are concerns that this may make the framework less effective, as many Asian countries hope for greater access to U.S. markets, which is part of the reason for Japan's push for concrete action.

Meanwhile, China has been taking a larger role in shaping economic frameworks in the region. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which counts China as its largest member, launched at the start of this year, and Beijing is seeking CPTPP membership.

While Japan hopes for Washington to eventually return to the CPTPP fold, that looks unlikely to happen anytime soon, given concerns in the U.S. about the potential impact on domestic industry. The topic was not brought up during this trip.

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