(Bloomberg) -- Some Asian nations are reluctant to sign up to President Joe Biden’s economic framework for the region because they’re unsure what it will mean, US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said.
Biden is set to arrive Sunday in Tokyo, where he’s expected to unveil the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework with other regional leaders. Few specifics have been revealed, except that the deal won’t include more access to the US market.
Governments around the region are asking “What is it we’re signing up to?” Emanuel told reporters on Thursday at his official residence. “Are we starting the negotiations, or starting the process that leads to negotiations?”
The US plans to describe the process as “consultation to negotiation,” he said.
The Financial Times reported Friday that the US had diluted the language in the document in a last-minute move to attract more countries to sign up. An earlier draft had said the nations would “launch negotiations,” the paper said, citing people familiar with the situation and an earlier draft.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Emanuel underscored the symbolic value of the deal and said details would be fleshed out after the launch. “IPEF is a way of also saying on the economic front we are permanently part of the Pacific,” he said.
The IPEF is key to the Biden administration’s efforts to counter China’s clout in Asia, following the US withdrawal from talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade agreement under former President Donald Trump.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office May 10, is expected to announce his government’s intention to join the framework when he speaks with Biden in Seoul on Saturday, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported.
Read more: Biden to Launch Indo-Pacific Economic Plan in Next Days in Japan
The pillars of the framework include clean energy, supply-chain resilience; decarbonization and infrastructure; and taxation and anti-corruption. The US Trade Representative’s office is heading up the work on fair and resilient trade. The administration also has been working to include digital issues like localization and cross-border flows of data.
Some in Congress have criticized the plan as lacking substance, with senators from both parties blasting Biden’s trade agenda at a March hearing and grilling US Trade Representative Katherine Tai over a shortage of ambition to negotiate new agreements.
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