SAN FRANCISCO: President Joe Biden highlighted strong US ties to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum economies on Thursday (Nov 16) and called on CEOs there to treat workers fairly, even as a regional trade deal stumbled over workers’ rights.
Before a working lunch and speech to heads of the 21-member APEC governments at their annual summit, Biden spoke to an audience of CEOs, touting investments by US companies in the region including Amazon, Delta Air Lines, PepsiCo, Apple and Boeing.
Stressing the strength of the US economy, he said 60 per cent of US exports went to APEC countries and American businesses were the largest source of foreign direct investment in those economies, committing at least US$40 billion in 2023.
“You can count on the United States” to be a “strong and steady partner”, he said. Companies based in other APEC economies have invested more than US$200 billion in the US since the start of his administration in 2021, he said.
Biden said his administration would keep working to improve labour standards and uphold commitments to unions. Hopes for a trade deal among the 14 countries in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) were dashed this week. Members could not agree on improving labour and environmental standards or compliance, people briefed on the talks said.
“The questions we must answer today are not about how much we trade, but about how we build resilience, lift up working people, reduce carbon emissions, and set up our economies to succeed over the long run,” Biden said.
“How to deliver growth from the bottom up and middle, so no one gets left behind,” said the president, who held a high-stakes summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday aimed at steadying tense relations.
A Biden administration official said leaders of Japan, Vietnam and Singapore would join Biden at the IPEF event and highlight progress in reaching an agreement on supply chains.
US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said earlier on Thursday IPEF countries had agreed on several “pillars” of the initiative, covering cooperation on clean energy and anti-corruption measures. Ministers also formally signed a previously agreed text of a third pillar, covering supply chain resiliency.
Asked how long the IPEF trade pillar could take to conclude, the administration official said most negotiations take years but the White House intended to work on an “accelerated timeline”.
APEC members have been closely watching developments between the US and China, the world’s two largest economies and strategic rivals, concerned that ever more intense competition could upset global trade and security.
In his speech, Biden said a stable relationship between the US and China was good for the world.
He said the United States was committed to the Asia-Pacific and that he had told Xi the US was engaged in the region because it was “a Pacific nation”. Biden said the United States was not decoupling its economy from China, but “de-risking and diversifying.”
“We will be firm, standing up for our values and our interests,” he said. “We’re gonna continue our commitment to diplomacy, to avoid surprises, prevent misunderstandings.”