The only pan-regional U.S. business association in the Indo-Pacific on Wednesday launched a task force aimed at ensuring the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity is “binding and meaningful.”
The American Association of the Indo-Pacific formed earlier this year with the goal of elevating the U.S. presence in the region, Jackson Cox, the group’s interim president, told Inside U.S. Trade. Its IPEF task force mission is “to secure a binding and meaningful IPEF by bringing forward proposals, insights, perspectives, and best practices from the American business community in the region.”
The task force will have four working groups, on trade, supply chains, digital policy, and clean energy, decarbonization and infrastructure. IPEF’s four pillars cover trade; supply chains; clean energy, decarbonization and infrastructure; and tax and anticorruption.
The task force features 15 member companies, including Micron, Intel, eBay, Citi and Apple, as well as the American Chambers of Commerce from Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, India and Australia.
After the administration’s launch of IPEF in May, Cox said, U.S. businesses in the Indo-Pacific wanted a platform to engage with negotiators. “I like our chances of achieving a strong, meaningful IPEF,” he said. “I like our chances a lot better if we have meaningful engagement.”
Engagement should not be confined to Washington, DC, either, Cox said. Cox served as the chair of the Asia-Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Consultations between negotiators and business groups during that time were centered in Washington, he said. “What we’re hoping for this time around is that we’re able to bring a meaningful contribution to the process from across the region,” he said.
The task force has not yet published negotiating objectives or specific proposals but its members hope to do so soon after the Sept. 8-9 IPEF ministerial in Los Angeles. The group is still figuring out what issues it wants to prioritize in developing recommendations for negotiators, Cox said.
“I’ve heard IPEF described as [the administration] flying the airplane while they’re building it,” Cox said. “That’s what we’re doing with the task force.”
The task force is calling for IPEF governments to hold broad consultations with stakeholders -- and to ensure those talks are meaningful, rather than one-way channels from business groups to governments. “We don’t want our engagement with the negotiators to be one-way with just providing a list of recommendations,” he said. “We want it to be a consultation. There is a lot that our members can bring to the table as they develop these pillars.”
For instance, task force member companies already are involved in capacity building and worker training in IPEF countries and can lend their expertise to negotiators, Cox said.
Another industry source said the framework’s three non-trade pillars are “unique and without precedent” and suggested the task force could help give negotiators access to industry expertise in those areas.
The nine AmChams on the task force have a “unique role to play,” according to Cox; they can engage with the private sector throughout the negotiations, he said, likening the complicated talks to “putting together a puzzle.”
AmChams from each IPEF members, save for Fiji, in June issued a statement in support of the talks. “Done correctly, the IPEF presents a significant opportunity to forge more resilient global supply chains, high-standard digital rules of the road, and energy transition outcomes that will drive prosperity on both sides of the Pacific,” they said. “Facilitating greater economic connectivity between the United States and the Indo-Pacific has never been more important.”
Once negotiations begin in earnest, the AAIP task force intends to use negotiating rounds or ministerials in the Indo-Pacific as opportunities to host private-sector roundtables and dialogues and take advantage of any chances to bring together U.S. business representatives with their counterparts in the region. -- Brett Fortnam (email@example.com