By Stephen Wright
New Zealand and other nations are set to sign on to President Biden’s signature economic initiative for Asia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday, while still signaling a preference for the U.S. to join a regional trade deal rejected under the Trump administration.
Mr. Biden’s proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework is meant to show the U.S.’s economic commitment to Asia and the Pacific at a time of increased competition for influence with China. Some analysts have said it could struggle for credibility since it doesn’t appear to be a formal economic agreement and may only gather together the existing longstanding allies and friends of the U.S. in the region.
“In the period ahead I expect we will be in a position, along with a number of others, to confirm our participation in President Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework initiative,” Ms. Ardern said in a speech to a New Zealand-U.S. business conference in Auckland.
The initiative is expected to have four main focus areas: fair trade; supply-chain resilience; infrastructure, clean energy and decarbonization; and tax and anti-corruption. Long-standing U.S. allies and friends such as Australia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore are among the likely participants.
The Center for Strategic & International Studies said last month that the framework will be considered a failure if it can’t draw in at least two to three of the larger Southeast Asia economies–Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Ms. Ardern said that New Zealand’s preference on the trade front is for the U.S. to become part of a regional trade bloc–the Trans-Pacific Partnership–that involves 11 countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico and Australia.
“It remains my hope that in time we will be able to resume that conversation,” she said.
The pact was a crucial part of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia, but was scuttled under former President Donald Trump. China in September last year applied to join the TPP.
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