Community Groups seek public consultation as Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF) meets virtually in Washington

Media release July 26, 2022: Ministers from 14 member countries of the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) are  meeting virtually in Washington on July 26 and 27. IPEF includes the US, Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji.

IPEF is an initiative of the US Biden administration mainly motivated by strategic competition with China in the region, and by US domestic politics. The US is not part of the two big existing regional trade agreements. These are the Regional Comprehensive economic Partnership (RCEP) of the ten ASEAN countries plus five other countries, and the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership of 11 Pacific Rim countries. The U.S. Congress does not currently have ‘fast track’ authority which enables negotiation of legally binding trade agreements, and there is still strong bipartisan opposition to legally binding agreements like the CPTPP, from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2016.

The US proposes IPEF to be a trade and investment framework for US-aligned countries in the region, with the aims of achieving: high labour and environmental standards; a digital trade framework; diverse, open and predictable supply-chains; and greater investment in decarbonisation and clean energy. These are worthy goals, but it is not clear how they will be negotiated outside of a legally binding trade agreement framework.

Dr. Patricia Ranald, Convener, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) said:

“IPEF cannot meet its claimed goals of improving workers’ rights and environmental standards without a far more transparent process with genuine involvement of unions, environment groups and other civil society groups.”

“One hundred US groups have called on the US government to develop such an open and transparent consultation process which should also apply in Australia.”

“Australia already has series of legally binding overlapping bilateral and regional trade agreements involving IPEF countries, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the CPTPP, the Australian New Zealand- ASEAN free trade agreement and numerous bilateral agreements.”

“IPEF adds an additional forum to already complicated Indo-Pacific trade architecture. The Labor government has a policy of a public consultation process and independent assessment of cost and benefits to Australia of such arrangements. We call on Labor to implement its policy.”