The Straits Times | 6 April 2023
Asean nations in IPEF pushing for all members to join trade pact: Indonesia’s chief negotiator
by Hariz Baharudin
JAKARTA - The exclusion of three out of the 10 Asean members from the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) is something the grouping’s members continue to bring up during the framework’s discussions, said Indonesia’s chief negotiator for IPEF, Dr Edi Prio Pambudi.
IPEF, which was launched by the United States in June 2022, has 14 participating countries, which together account for more than 40 per cent of the global gross domestic product. They are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.
Dr Edi said on Thursday that the Asean members who are part of the framework have been pushing for the inclusion of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
“We have never stopped talking with our colleagues from the US. The key members of Asean want to also invite all member countries, because Asean is the heart of the Indo-Pacific,” said Dr Edi, who is also Deputy Minister for the Coordination of International Economic Cooperation at the Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs.
He was speaking at a seminar organised by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore on Thursday. His comments came after Indonesia hosted the second round of negotiations on the IPEF from March 13 to 19 in Bali.
Dr Edi acknowledged that there could be some reasons for the exclusion of the three Asean member states, which may have political motives.
“But I shared that we also need to improve the connectivity, because in Asean our focus is to build the connectivity between Asean,” he said.
IPEF has been touted as the centrepiece of the US’ strategy for economic engagement with the Indo-Pacfic region. US officials have stated that they do not envision the framework as taking the form of a traditional free trade agreement and is unlikely to include market access or lower tariffs.
Instead, the programme foresees integrating partners through agreed standards in four main areas: digital economy, supply chains, clean energy infrastructure and anti-corruption measures.
Dr Edi stressed that as Asean chair in 2023, Indonesia will use its position to ensure that the trade initiative will benefit all participating countries and maintain peace in the region.
“Indonesia envisions a stable and peaceful region that serves as a cornerstone of global stability. We firmly believe that Asean, together with IPEF, can catalyse positive impact across the Indo-Pacific region and unlock new pathways for strengthening partnerships within the region,” he said.
The first round of negotiations for IPEF was held in December 2022 in Brisbane, Australia, and special negotiating rounds on some of the pact’s areas were held in New Delhi, in February 2023.
Dr Edi also highlighted how during the recent round of negotiations in Bali, Indonesia had brought in the private sector to be part of the discussions.
He said that the archipelago organised the Indo-Pacific Chambers of Commerce and Industry Business Forum, a separate forum held alongside the IPEF negotiations, to allow businesses to be introduced to and to collaborate with one another.
“For concrete deliverable and tangible benefits, the involvement of the private sector is the main key for IPEF to become a full framework. Not just a framework, but also a ‘real-work’ that can be implemented and provide benefits to all of IPEF partners,” he said.
A third round of negotiations is being planned in Singapore from May 8 to 15.