US-led Pacific trade talks close to reaching supply chains pact

The US initiated the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, as a way to counter China’s growing influence and make up for lost ground after pulling out of previous efforts to set regional trade rules.

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Fourteen countries in US-led Indo-Pacific trade talks are nearing an agreement on supply chain coordination and may announce a deal as soon as next week, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Negotiators would like to announce an agreement at a meeting of ministers in Detroit on May 27, added the people, who asked not to be identified because conversations are unfolding behind closed doors.

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The talks are focused on systems to provide early warnings when countries see a risk of supply chains being interrupted. The intention is to avoid the kind of global disruptions experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

Supply chains are one of the four “pillars” in the framework that countries began discussing last year — along with clean economy, which focuses on the transition to renewable energy and fighting climate change; fair economy, which includes taxation and corruption issues; and trade.

While an agreement on supply chains would mark progress, some of the remaining pillars could be harder to resolve, such as trade, in which India isn’t participating because of concerns about potential environment and labor commitments. Trade is also an issue where, historically, countries have struggled to come to agreement.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s office is negotiating the trade pillar for the US, while the Commerce Department, led by Secretary Gina Raimondo, is supervising efforts on the other three.

The Commerce Department didn’t respond to a request for comment sent after normal business hours and the USTR declined to comment.

The US initiated the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF, as a way to counter China’s growing influence and make up for lost ground after pulling out of previous efforts to set regional trade rules.

Aside from the US, the talks include Japan, India and South Korea, which all rank among the 10 biggest national economies in the world. The nations included in the framework, represent more than $34 trillion in economic output, or about 41 percent of global production.

Negotiators met in Singapore from May 8 through 15 for a third round of talks after earlier sessions in Bali, Indonesia, in March and Brisbane, Australia, in December. During the latest sessions, the countries “continued to make strong progress on a wide range of issues across the four pillars,” according to a statement from the USTR.

The framework is the most significant American economic engagement in the region since President Donald Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, but it stops short of reducing tariffs like a traditional free-trade agreement, which some countries have sought. Because of that, it does not require approval by Congress.

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