US-led negotiations among 14 countries to kick-start the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework , part of Washington’s bid to counter China’s influence in the region, wrapped up on Friday with agreed-upon parameters for closer trade and investment ties but few concrete details on how these would be delivered. IPEF, the economic leg of an Indo-Pacific strategy announced by President Joe Biden in May, features four main focus areas: trade , supply chain resiliency, clean energy and a “fair economy”. The areas are meant to address criticism that the US is an important Indo-Pacific security partner that cannot match China’s growing economic clout. “This meeting was a chance to deepen our partnerships and fill in the details about how we will work collectively to address the challenges and opportunities that will define the 21 century,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who co-hosted the inaugural meeting in Los Angeles with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, without elaborating on the details. “Our first in-person meeting has been an undeniable success,” added Raimondo. “I am proud of the progress we’ve made and I’m excited to continue building momentum in this effort.” A central shortcoming of the US initiative, analysts say , is that many of the regional allies and partners whom the US seeks to woo above all want a trade agreement that would lower US tariffs and other import barriers. But that has become all but impossible politically as the US electorate has soured on multilateral trade agreements. Former president Donald Trump pulled the world’s largest economy out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional trade deal in the first days of his administration in 2017. “We should take IPEF and turn this opportunity into a reality,” said Christine McDaniel, senior research fellow with George Mason University’s Mercatus Centre. “Trade facilitation is great, and getting our infrastructure to talk to their infrastructure is important. But if you’re doing all that and still have to pay a 20 per cent tariff, it kind of defeats the purpose.” While US importers and exporters acknowledged the Los Angeles meeting’s role in setting benchmarks for IPEF, they said more needed to be done. Building the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, pillar by pillar “Now the hard work begins,” the National Foreign Trade Council, a group of 100 member companies, said in a statement. “We urge countries to quickly build on this momentum to negotiate towards commercially meaningful commitments.” Getting there will require that the IPEF finesse often disparate perspectives, a challenge underscored by India ’s decision not to join the trade pillar for undisclosed reasons. “You’ve got 14 different ministers representing 14 different economies, who are part of 14 different bureaucracies who come from 14 different political landscapes,” Tai said of the challenge, adding that many of the sticking points would be covered in bilateral talks with India. “That might be the hardest part of an exercise like this.” In a concluding statement on Friday, Raimondo and Tai said the 14 member nations would continue to chase progress in IPEF’s four economic pillars, touting the “enthusiasm” on display during negotiations. Target goals include the enactment of high standards important to fuel inclusive growth; coordination to avoid future supply-chain disruptions; spurring investment in clean energy and carbon capture; and attempting to stem corruption. While China was not mentioned by name in closing statements, the meeting and IPEF’s ambitions play an unmistakable part in US efforts to counter Beijing . This is seen in the group’s focus on global standards, transparency, and rule of law as well as its emphasis on “free and fair” trade and resilient supply chains in relation to national security. All are areas in which the US has criticised China. The goal is further evident in IPEF’s strength-in-numbers structure, echoing the Biden administration’s similar coalition initiatives. These include the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue , or Quad, comprising the US, Australia , India and Japan , and the Aukus alliance , a security pact in which Australia, Britain and the US aim to check China’s expanding regional footprint. Asean’s interest in Biden’s IPEF a vote for better ‘balance of power’ in region Beijing has repeatedly labelled these efforts “Cold War” thinking and part of a “clique” mentality, describing the IPEF at its launch in March as an effort to introduce “bloc confrontation into the Asia-Pacific region”. At the same time, China has sought to shore up its own relationships and show that it too has friends. This week, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan announced that Chinese President Xi Jinping would travel in mid-September to Central Asia for bilateral meetings and a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a collection of 18 countries brought together by Beijing in 2015. It would mark Xi’s first trip outside China since the start of the coronavirus pandemic , signalling the group’s importance. The trip has also fuelled reports that Xi could meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin while in the region. On Friday, Biden promoted another key economic initiative, namely to get his nation’s own house in order by strengthening US manufacturing, especially involving cutting-edge semiconductors . Chip production is central to Beijing’s Made in China 2025 economic road map. “We need to make these chips right here in America,” Biden told an assembled crowd at a groundbreaking for a US$20 billion Intel chip fabrication plant in Ohio. “America’s back,” Biden added, wearing aviator sunglasses. “The future of the chip industry is going to be made in America.” China goes on Asia-Pacific trade offensive in wake of US’ IPEF push Biden’s trip to the key battleground state follows his signing into law a US$53 billion Chips and Science Act that passed both houses of the US Congress. “It’s no wonder … that the Chinese Communist Party actively lobbied US business against this law,” Biden said, with heavy machinery looming in the background. This week’s talks in Los Angeles included ministers from Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia , Japan, South Korea , Malaysia , New Zealand , Philippines , Singapore , Thailand , the US and Vietnam that collectively represent 40 per cent of the world’s economic output. Raimondo said the IPEF had yet to set a date for its next meeting, but added that she expected it to take place early in 2023.