New Zealand’s Ardern to discuss Asia-Pacific outreach with Biden

Ardern’s White House visit comes after New Zealand leader urged US to return to sweeping regional trade pact.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a post Cabinet press conference at Parliament in Wellington
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will meet US President Joe Biden on Tuesday for talks on Washington’s efforts to boost its engagement in the Asia Pacific [File: Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP]

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will meet United States President Joe Biden on Tuesday for talks on Washington’s efforts to boost its engagement in the Asia Pacific.

Speaking to media in Washington, DC, Ardern said US engagement in the region was “top of mind” in her discussions with Biden at the White House.

“We’ll be encouraging the United States to really continue and strengthen engagement in our region including economic engagement, which is really critical to our region,” she said.

Ardern is also expected to meet Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell.

“It’s not about announceables,” she said. “It’s not about new initiatives. It is actually about that relationship.”

Ardern’s visit comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi continues an eight-nation tour of Pacific Island countries that is being closely watched by the US, Australia and New Zealand, which fear Beijing is seeking to establish a military footprint in the region.

Yi and his counterparts in 10 Pacific Island nations on Monday failed to reach a consensus on a sweeping security and trade deal that would have radically expanded China’s involvement in the South Pacific.

Last week, Ardern urged the US to embrace broader economic engagement in the Asia Pacific by returning to the “gold standard” Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the CPTPP’s forebearer, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), in 2017, citing the need to protect American jobs and wages.

Despite pledging to boost economic engagement in the Asia Pacific, the Biden administration has not sought to join the CPTPP amid opposition in Congress and concerns it could lead to US jobs being shipped overseas.

The US has also declined to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s biggest trade bloc, made up of China and 14 other signatories, including New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Disappointment in region

Biden has instead pushed the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), an initiative that sets out common standards in areas including trade and clean energy without easing barriers to trade.

While broadly welcomed across the region, the IPEF’s lack of tariff reductions has been met with disappointment in many export-reliant countries that are seeking greater access to the US market.

“Since early this year, geopolitical tensions and inflation hikes have posed urgent and significant challenges to the global post-pandemic recovery,” Haiping Zhang, a senior economics lecturer at the University of Auckland, told Al Jazeera.

“Large economies, including the United States and China, should take a leading role in offering the Asia Pacific region more predictability. The existing plurilateral institutions, e.g., APEC, RCEP and CPTPP, are expected to serve as effective platforms for this purpose.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies