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Looking to boost its economic profile in Asia and create another counter-balance to China, President Biden has unveiled a new U.S. strategy called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Joining the deal are a dozen initial partners, including Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Together, the countries represent 40% of global GDP and “some of the world’s fastest-growing, most dynamic economies.”

Fine print: The IPEF is not structured as a free trade deal, but is rather a framework that is being called a “21st-century economic arrangement.” As a result, most of its components will likely not have to go through Congress, where there is little appetite for new trade deals. Many still remember the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was scrapped by the Trump administration, only to see the remaining signatories go on to ratify the agreement (now known as CPTPP) without the United States. China also magnified its influence in the area with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which became the largest trade bloc in history after being signed in November 2020.

Exact details of the IPEF have not been scoped out yet, but the deal will focus on four economic pillars: the digital economy, supply chain pledges, clean energy, and tax and anti-corruption. There will be firm commitments that will be enforceable, according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, but will steer clear of tariff arrangements and other traditional market opening tools. Those have become toxic in American politics in recent years despite “greater market access” historically serving as a carrot for the U.S. to set stricter labor standards and intellectual property protections…

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