Community Groups demand transparency as Indo-Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF) meets in Los Angeles

AFTINET MEDIA RELEASE                                                                                                                            

September 9, 2022

Forty-six community organisations from Australia and the region have endorsed a letter calling for greater transparency and rejection of failed past trade models as Ministers from 14 member countries of the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) meet in Los Angeles today. IPEF includes the US, Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Fiji.

A full copy of the letter is here.

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 Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) of 11 Pacific Rim countries.

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.

The letter states:

“If countries choose to move forward with Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) talks, they must be based on a new model that prioritizes the interests of working people in all countries, as well as the environment, consumers, family farmers and indigenous peoples instead of just big corporations... A transparent and participatory negotiating process is critical to ensuring the best possible outcomes from IPEF or any other future trade negotiations”.

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.”

“Australia already has a 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, the PACER-Plus agreement with Pacific Island countries 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.”