WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said on Wednesday that Hanoi was interested in helping the United States realize the aims of its proposed economic framework for the Indo-Pacific, but needed time to study the details.
Chinh, in Washington for a two-day summit between President Joe Biden and Southeast Asian leaders starting on Thursday, said he had had discussions on Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) with U.S. officials earlier on Wednesday.
“We would we would like to work with the U.S. to realize the four pillars of that initiative,” he told a question-and-answer session after delivering a speech at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He said the pillars were supply-chain stability, digital economy, the fight against climate change and a fourth related to labor, tax and combating corruption.
“These are very important to the U.S., to Vietnam and other countries alike,” he said, speaking through a translator.
However, Chinh said the “concrete elements” of the initiative had yet to be clarified.
“We are ready to engage in discussion with the U.S. to clarify what these four pillars will entail and when that is clarified, we would have something to discuss,” he added. “We need more time to study this initiative and see what it entails.”
Asian countries have been frustrated by a U.S. delay in detailing plans for economic engagement with the region since former President Donald Trump quit a regional trade pact in 2017, leaving the field open to U.S. rival China.
At a virtual summit with ASEAN last October, Biden said Washington would start talks about developing what has become known as IPEF, which aims to set regional standards for cooperation, but diplomats say this is likely to feature only peripherally this week.
Japan’s Washington ambassador said this week IPEF is likely to be formally launched when Biden visits Japan later this month, but its details were still under discussion.
Analysts and diplomats say only two of the 10 ASEAN countries – Singapore and the Philippines – were expected to be among the initial group of states to sign up for negotiations under IPEF, which does not currently offer the expanded market access Asian nations crave given Biden’s concern for American jobs.
Chinh hailed the blossoming of Hanoi’s relations with the United States in recent decades and the explosion of bilateral trade to almost $112 billion annually, although he said the two sides should further advance cooperation to deal with the legacy of their hostility in the Vietnam War.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Simon Lewis and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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