US farmers welcome Indo-Pacific economic framework

Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Illinois farmer Brian Duncan looked to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal between the United States and Asian countries to boost demand for his crops, and in particular, the prices for the thousands of pigs he raises every year. .

“Pork is in high demand in Asian countries, around the Pacific,” he told VOA in a recent interview outside one of the sheds where he takes care of his animals. “I was really looking forward to seeing what opportunities might arise for pork sales in this part of the world.”

But the TPP has become politically problematic for Democrats and Republicans who ultimately distanced themselves from a trade deal some voters said would negatively impact U.S. manufacturing jobs. When Republican Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, hopes of passing the TPP ended.

“Part of the TPP’s role was to counter China’s growing economic influence and position the United States as a positive force in the region,” Duncan said. “These countries have gone ahead without us, they have left us behind on trade.”

Max Baucus, former US senator from Montana and former US ambassador to China, agrees.

“When we pulled out of the TPP, we really abdicated our leadership and created a huge vacuum in Southeast Asia,” Baucus, now co-chair of the Farmers for Free Trade advocacy group, said in a briefing. recent online meeting on the Biden administration. efforts to engage Asian nations in new trade negotiations. “It’s important to establish an economic counterweight to China. It’s important. That was the whole point of the TPP.”

Mark Gebhards, executive director of government affairs for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said, “We have strongly encouraged the Biden administration to do more in terms of creating real market access.”

Gebhards says Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) with 12 Asian countries – Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – is a welcome development that could boost US agricultural exports.

“The benefit for us is to increase market access in extremely important countries that are very willing, very interested in our agricultural products. For our farmers, for our members, there is a direct benefit here,” said Gebhards told VOA in an interview at the Illinois Farm Bureau headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois.

“It’s great to talk about, it’s a great first step, but we really think we need to put more concrete trade deals in place, especially in light of the Ukraine conflict and all that’s going on. in the world today. The Indo-Pacific framework, it’s important to note that it’s not a trade agreement with these 12 countries that are in. It’s really in the sense of a framework to sit and talking about trade issues. This is not a negotiation you would engage in in a trade deal, especially in a bilateral approach that we have with many of these countries.”

Duncan said, “Something is better than nothing, that’s where I’m at. Sixty percent of…the world’s population is going to be in these Indo-Pacific countries.”

The White House says the 12 IPEF nations also account for around 40% of global GDP.

But Duncan is aware of the limits of the ongoing talks. “It’s just a framework. We hope it will provide a mechanism to move forward and build on. When I see this framework, it at least answers one of the questions – we don’t we haven’t given up on a multilateral agreement in the Pacific, and I think that’s good news. So now, we hope that’s a start, we hope there’s a dialogue, and we hope we can build on that and make people understand that multilateral agreements are not bad, that they can work and have worked in the past.”

As he waits – and hopes – for trade talks to turn into trade negotiations, Duncan sees IPEF as a significant shift in US trade policy.

“I think there is hope again and an awareness of the importance of international trade.”