US President-elect Joe Biden said on Monday the United States needed to negotiate with allies to set global trading rules to counter China’s growing influence, but declined to say whether he would join a new China-backed Asian trade pact signed on Sunday.
Asked at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, whether the United States would join the Asian-focused 15-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, Biden said he could not yet discuss US trade policy because he had not taken office “and there’s only one president at a time”.
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“We make up 25 percent … of the economy in the world,” Biden said of the US.
“We need to be aligned with the other democracies, another 25 percent or more so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town.”
The signing of the RCEP at a regional summit in Hanoi creates the world’s largest trade agreement, covering 30 percent of the global economy and a third of its population, and bringing together Asian powers China, Japan and South Korea for the first time.
It also marks another setback for US influence in the region after President Donald Trump in 2017 quit the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, negotiated while Biden was vice president.
While TPP members including Japan and many free-trade advocates have expressed hope that Biden would rejoin that trade pact, he has said little about the subject and advisers have said he would not immediately remove tariffs on Chinese goods.
Myron Brilliant, executive vice president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said said on Monday that he was concerned Washington was being left behind following the signing of the RCEP.
But while he welcomed the trade-liberalising benefits of the RECP, he said Washington should not join the bloc.
“Given the shortcomings of RCEP, we would not recommend the United States joining,” Brilliant said, noting that recent US trade agreements had included stronger, enforceable rules on issues such digital trade, non-tariff barriers and intellectual property protections.
“The United States should, however, adopt a more forward-looking, strategic effort to maintain a solid US economic presence in the region,” he said.
“Otherwise, we risk being on the outside looking in as one of the world’s primary engines of growth hums along without us.”
Biden told reporters on Monday that he had a detailed trade plan he would discuss on January 21, 2021, the day after he is due to be sworn into office.
Biden said he had told leaders the US would approach trade by insisting that Washington would “invest in American workers and make them more competitive,” make sure that labour and environmental interests were represented in any new trade negotiations and stop “poking our finger in the eyes of our friends”.
Asked why he would not comment on plans for trade agreements when he has said he would rejoin the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords, Biden said: “You’re asking me about whether I’d join a specific proposal, the details of which are now only being negotiated among those nations. It would require a negotiation.”