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‘Significant strides’ made on IPEF, on to implementation: US commerce chief Raimondo

The Straits Times | 14 March 2024

‘Significant strides’ made on IPEF, on to implementation: US commerce chief Raimondo

by Michelle Ng

SINGAPORE – United States President Joe Biden’s signature economic initiative in the Asia-Pacific has made “significant strides” in the past two years and is now moving into the implementation phase, said US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Referring to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), Ms Raimondo said on March 14 that she and her counterparts will be laying out a 2024 work plan and discussing concrete ways to bring private sector partners into the framework.

“Two years ago, this framework didn’t even exist. Today, we have over a dozen nations throughout the Indo-Pacific at the table working with the US to address our shared goals and challenges to bolster our economies,” she told reporters on the last day of a four-day trip to the Philippines and Thailand.

“It’s been an action-packed four days, and we’re not done yet,” said Ms Raimondo from Bangkok, where she and nine chief executive officers of US firms were on a fact-finding mission with the presidential export council mission, a group that advises the US President on international trade.

Her visit to the two countries was aimed at strengthening relationships and identifying opportunities. Ms Raimondo said she will keep the momentum going and move towards concrete deliverables and investments in the region.

Launched by the Biden administration in 2022, the IPEF is the centrepiece of US economic engagement in a region where most nations count China as their top trading partner. The initiative has been widely viewed as a US-led effort to counter China’s influence and its dominance in key supply chains in the region.

The 14 nations that have joined the IPEF include seven Asean member states – Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Agreements on three of the framework’s four pillars – supply chain, clean energy and anti-corruption – have been reached, but a trade deal has so far been blocked by congressmen from Mr Biden’s own Democratic Party who fear it could hurt their performance in the 2024 US election.

While Ms Raimondo’s media briefing did not provide updates about the trade pillar, which is of key importance to export-driven Asian economies, she did announce investments amounting to more than US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) in the Philippines during her earlier two-day visit to Manila.

Some of these investments – by American companies such as Google, Mastercard and United Airlines, and spanning areas like solar energy, electric vehicles and digitalisation – are already under way. And they will create educational and career opportunities for an estimated 30 Filipinos to be trained in digital skills, she added.

Ms Raimondo had also reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad” alliance with the Philippines during her presidential trade and investment mission to Manila.

She said the US will help the Philippines double its semiconductor facilities, in a bid to diversify the global chip supply chain, which is largely concentrated in Taiwan, China and South Korea.

This comes as the US is pumping in US$50 billion to bolster its domestic semiconductor industry, as it seeks to reduce its reliance on the few Asian territories for much of its chip supply, while adding sanctions to curb the advancement of China’s technological capabilities in chipmaking.

Pointing out that Thailand is strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region and has a long commercial relationship with the US, Ms Raimondo said Thailand is also “well positioned to get a fair share of increased growth in the semiconductor industry by growing other parts of the supply chain”.

Ms Raimondo’s visit to the Philippines came amid increased tensions between Manila and Beijing in recent months over disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea. In the latest incident on March 5, Manila accused the China Coast Guard of firing water cannon at Philippine vessels, resulting in injuries to four Filipino crew members.

Admiral John Aquilino, leader of the US Indo-Pacific Command, had joined her on the Philippine trip. This underscored America’s whole-of-government approach, said Ms Raimondo, adding that “economic security is national security”.

 source: The Straits Times