Vietnam interested in Biden economic framework, but needs to study details

Vietnamese PM Pham Minh Chinh said that the "concrete elements" of the initiative have yet to be clarified. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said on Wednesday (May 11) that Hanoi is interested in helping the United States realise the aims of its proposed economic framework for the Indo-Pacific, but needs 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 US officials earlier on Wednesday.

"We would we would like to work with the US to realise the four pillars of that initiative," he told a question-and-answer session after delivering a speech at Washington's Centre 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 labour, tax and combating corruption.

"These are very important to the US, to Vietnam and other countries alike," he said, speaking through a translator.

However, Chinh said the "concrete elements" of the initiative have yet to be clarified.

"We are ready to engage in discussion with the US 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 US 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 US 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 are still under discussion.

Analysts and diplomats say only two of the 10 Asean countries - Singapore and the Philippines - are 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 US$112 billion (S$156 billion) annually, although he said the two sides should further advance cooperation to deal with the legacy of their hostility in the Vietnam War.

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