India has opted out of trade negotiations under the framework of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity, initiated by the United States and officially launched in May this year. Trade, including digital economy and emerging technology, labor commitments, and the environment, is one of the four pillars in the framework.
The South-Asian country is the only nation of 14 in the IPEF to refuse to join in the trade pillar, immediately after the US hosted the first in-person ministerial meeting in Los Angeles on Sept 8-9, but experts say the possibility that other members also have worries on the framework cannot be easily crossed, and there may be more difficulties lying ahead.
India exits temporarily from the trade negotiations citing its own development rights, its thoughts probably not being alone. Other developing countries may have similar considerations, said Sun Lipeng, an associate researcher with Studies of the United States at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, in an interview with People's Daily.
It may be a universal concern for these participants that the US has no plan to open its own markets or transfer some benefits when promoting the IPEF cooperation, said Sun. These developing countries mostly take a wait-and-see attitude, though they have already been a part of the trade negotiations.
Wei Zongyou thinks India is not the only member in divergence with the US in the framework, too. Wei is a professor with Center for Studies of the United States at Fudan University.
Take the statement of the ministerial meeting for example, it said the IPEF will facilitate credibility and safety on cross-border data flows, and cultivate an open digital trade, said Wei. However, Vietnam and some other ASEAN countries have completely different laws and regulations from the US and appeal to distinctive interests from the US.
ASEAN countries and Fiji would like the US to help build their infrastructure construction, and develop clean energy technology in the frame. But a Sino-US zero-sum game is not what they want to see in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Wei.
The fact of a relatively loose IPEF has shown a slide of the US' strength, said Sun. It seems the US couldn't have initiated a more restrictive economic or trade accord, based on its market volume and GDP share in the world, he said. All these factors would give more obstacles to specific negotiations in the IPEF.
As Wei sees it, the US' main purpose of the frame establishment is to show it has major interests and concerns in the Asia-Pacific region and will put more to the economic development of the region. But actually, it's impossible that the US will spend big there, which the other participants will see in the future.
The IPEF seems to be a regional economic cooperation framework, but it's difficult for it to lead the operating mechanism of the Asia-Pacific economy, said Xu Liping, a researcher with the Institute of Asia-Pacific and International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. On the contrary, it may be turned into a geopolitical tool to make division and confrontation.
The rules and standards of the frame will be mainly substantiated by the US, which would be hard for the other members to accept entirely, said Xu. The developed economies in the framework like Japan and South Korea can't afford the cost of complete decoupling with China; they may be seeing disproportionate gain and pain.