Senior U.S. official says Asia-Pacific trade deal is ‘low-quality’

WASHINGTON-- A senior U.S. official on Friday discounted a regional trade deal involving countries including South Korea and China as a "low-quality agreement" that lacks proper standards.

Keith Krach, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy security, and the environment, was referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which was announced earlier this month by the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and its dialogue partners -- South Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

"It's kind of like it's a low-quality agreement, particularly when it comes to standards, things like labor, things like environment ... even things like digital," Krach told reporters in Washington after returning from a trip to Asia, where he also visited Seoul.

"So it doesn't even come close to, for example, the modernized USMCA agreement," he added, referring to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement that has been signed, but not yet ratified.

The China-led RCEP is seen as a complicating factor for the Trump administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, which aims to counter Beijing's military and economic rise in the region.

It accounts for half of the world's population and one-third of the total gross domestic product across the globe.

Seoul has said it expects the RCEP to help implementation of its New Southern Policy, which seeks to improve the country's strategic relations, mainly with Southeast Asian countries, and provide local companies with more business opportunities in the region.

Krach reiterated his praise of the South Korean government for giving up its developing nation status at the World Trade Organization, saying it sets a role model for China.

He also noted South Korea's efforts to curtail illegal fishing.

"By the time I got there they'd already passed a bill on it," he said. "So these guys have been great partners."

In September, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made a preliminary decision to designate South Korea as a country that engages in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The decision currently has no direct impact on South Korea's fishing industry. However, if it is confirmed to be an IUU nation, the country will be banned from shipping fishery goods to the U.S.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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