U.S. vows to counter China with allies over "distorted" global trade

03/03/2022    54

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden on Tuesday slammed China for having "distorted" global trade through its unfair economic practices, and vowed to work with allies and partners to confront moves that undermine market competition.

In its annual trade policy agenda released the same day, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also underscored its efforts to beef up economic engagement with Asian countries through a planned "Indo-Pacific Economic Framework," an idea initially announced by Biden in October amid China's growing economic clout in the region.

The USTR said it plans to release additional details in the "near future" on the framework, calling it "a key part of the administration's Indo-Pacific Strategy that will strengthen the United States' ties to an important and dynamic region."

The report was particularly harsh with regard to China, citing "a wide array of unfair, distortive measures" that provide substantial support to Chinese industries, as well as the country's failure to ensure basic labor rights and its achieving of low operating costs through "artificially low wages and poor worker protections."

It also criticized Beijing's alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority in the far-western Xinjiang region, calling its use in supply chains not only an "extreme form of unfair competition" but a "moral stain."

"China's approach to trade drives frictions in many of China's trade relationships -- not just ours," the USTR said, adding that Beijing is posing "threats" to the United States.

"We are also considering all existing tools -- and will potentially seek new ones as needed -- to combat the harms of China's state-led, non-market practices," it said, without elaborating.

On the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, which is expected to be launched early this year, the report said it will address key areas of cooperation such as trade, supply chain resilience and clean energy.

The USTR will lead efforts to craft a "trade arrangement" with parties that includes provisions on high-standard labor commitments as well as cooperation in the digital economy, it said.

The framework is expected to help make up for U.S. absence from major regional free trade agreements, but experts are skeptical as to whether it could lead to deeper economic integration in the region, as it seems unlikely that it would involve politically sensitive trade liberalization commitments at this time.

China, meanwhile, is part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a free trade agreement that also involves members including Japan, South Korea and the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Beijing has also applied to join an 11-member Pacific free trade pact known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. The United States withdrew in 2017 from the original version of the deal.

On trade relations with Japan, the USTR hailed the Asian country as "a valued trading partner of the United States, as well as a close ally."

Through an initiative launched last year called the U.S.-Japan Partnership on Trade, the two countries will engage regularly to advance cooperation on trade as well as to address issues of concern for either side, the report said.

The initial areas of focus for cooperation include issues such as "third country concerns," the USTR said in the report, an apparent reference to China's unfair economic policies.

Source: Kyodo News