Indo-Pacific Framework a Good First Step Toward More Ag Trade

The Biden Administration formally launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework with 12 other countries. Brian Kuehl, executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, says it’s the kind of announcement that American agriculture has been waiting for.

“We really have, and I think that’s reflective of several things. I think the Biden administration came in on the heels of the Trump administration, and the Trump administration, obviously, was fairly protectionist when it came to trade. They had pulled us out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and started trade wars with China, with Mexico and Canada, and with others. Ultimately, the Trump administration did negotiate the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, which was a great update to NAFTA, but the tenor of the last four years was that trade was not necessarily good for the U.S. And so, the Biden administration came into office in that context, and I think it’s been a little bit scared of its own shadow in terms of not wanting to engage in trade and that’s been disappointing, because I think our competitors are executing deals and cutting deals and opening markets, and we need to.”

The framework isn’t a trade agreement in itself, but Kuehl is hopeful that it will make agreements easier to negotiate with partner countries in the framework.

“The goal, I think, of the Biden administration is to encourage this bloc of nations to work together on common interests where they can, but they recognize for some countries, some issues are going to be harder than other issues. And so, they’re trying to find common ground where they can across this bloc of countries that, again, serves as a counterweight a significant counterweight to China. So, trade is one of those pillars, and we certainly hope that we’re going to see a number of the countries sign up and work together on trade. Trade agreements with that follow, so this is not a trade agreement itself.”

He says Farmers for Free Trade is pleased to see the U.S. taking the lead. “Absolutely, the U.S. needs to lead. If we don’t, it’s a vacuum, and others are going to step into that vacuum, so I think U.S. leadership’s critical. We’d like to see the Biden administration put more emphasis on market access, trying to open up those markets, whether it’s to U.S. pork or soybeans or ethanol, I mean, there are so many commodities we could be selling overseas. We think we need to lean in on trade agreements, but, as a starting place, this is a good place to start.”

The framework involves several countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

“The Indo-Pacific economic framework that the Biden administration rolled out is a framework that involves many of the countries that were involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it doesn’t include, for example, Mexico, which was part of TPP. It does include India, so it has a lot more heft in the Indo-Pacific region and sort of all those Southeast Asian countries, including India, that are at the table.”

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