US commerce secretary says closed three ‘pillars’ of Indo-Pacific talks

By David Lawder

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said a ministers meeting on Tuesday had completed three of four “pillars” in the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework talks on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim leaders summit.

Raimondo, made the remark at a bilateral meeting with Japan, one of the 14 IPEF countries in the U.S.-led talks.

She did not specify any details of the agreements, but the Commerce Department has led the negotiations on pillars covering supply chains, cooperation on clean energy on fighting corruption and tax evasion.

Addressing Japan’s trade, economy and industry minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura and foreign minister, Yoko Kamikawa, Raimondo said: “I want to thank both of you for your strong support of the IPEF. We had an excellent ministerial earlier today, closing out the three pillars of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.”

Her remarks revealed IPEF member countries have agreed on terms of the clean energy pillar, which aims to boost cooperation on de-carbonization efforts and on the anti-corruption chapter, which aims also aims to curb tax evasion and help countries build stronger institutions and laws.

Raimondo last May had announced the completion of the supply chains pillar, which set up an early warning and consultation system for supply chain disruptions due to natural disasters and other factors. A text was completed in September.

The fourth pillar, on trade, is not close to agreement, a major setback to the Biden administration, which had hoped to announce substantial completion this week during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit as a symbol of deeper U.S. economic integration with the region and a counterweight alternative to China.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday the trade pillar negotiations will “require further work”.

The difficulties on trade come as Biden prepares to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday in a high-stakes discussion aimed at easing tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Lincoln Feast.)