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U.S. commerce chief sees Indo-Pacific economic framework early next year

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Wednesday that an Indo-Pacific economic framework could be launched at the start of next year, and her Asia visit was to lay the groundwork for potential partnerships.

“We are likely to launch a more formal process in the beginning of next year, which will culminate in a proper economic framework in the region,” Raimondo said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore.

When asked whether that would mean an actual agreement, she said: “yeah, exactly.”

President Joe Biden said last month that Washington would start talks with partners in the Indo-Pacific about developing a regional economic framework.

Raimondo said she was in Tokyo before her trip to Singapore and would be visiting Malaysia next.

Critics of U.S. strategy for the region point to its lack of an economic component after former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2017 from a U.S.-inspired trade deal, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

China said in September that it had filed an application to join the CPTPP trade pact, which was signed by 11 countries including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan and New Zealand in 2018.

“This isn’t about China. This is about developing robust commercial and economic relationships with our partners in the Indo Pacific where we have had a robust relationship for a long time, but for the past few years,” Raimondo said.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Anshuman Daga in Singapore; Editing by Martin Petty)