India has started working on its negotiating position for the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity launched last month, which focusses on tough areas such as e-commerce and labour, with talks already set to gain momentum in the thirteen-member grouping. 

Official level discussions of the 13-member grouping began in Singapore earlier this week, on July 13-14, and a Ministerial meet is possibly scheduled later this month, according to a source tracking the matter.

“Although initially it was the Ministry of External Affairs that was at the helm of the preparatory talks for the IPEF, it is the Commerce Ministry that is now leading the negotiations. The IPEF has kept import tariffs out of its ambit, but there are several difficult areas such as e-commerce, labour, clean energy and supply chain where India needs to decide its stance” the source said.

On May 23, US President Joe Biden launched the IPEF with a dozen initial partners: Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

The grouping, which represents 40 per cent of world GDP, is expected to focus on the areas of digital economy, including standards on cross-border data flows and data localisation, labour and environment standards, supply-chain commitments, clean energy, including carbon removal, energy efficiency standards, as well as enactment and enforcement of effective tax, anti-money laundering, and anti-bribery regimes.

“Many of the prominent areas such as digital trade and cross border data flows, energy efficient standards and clean energy, and supply-chain commitments are areas where policy makers are still grappling with issues domestically. At the multilateral level, one needs to step cautiously and not take on commitments that would be difficult to deliver,” the source added.

Over 100 delegates and 65 virtual delegates participated in the senior officials meeting in Singapore. “...the countries had positive and productive discussions on the envisioned substance within the Framework and will continue to engage intensively in the coming months,” according to a statement by the US Department of Commerce.

While talks are still at an initial stage, it is expected that the Ministerial meeting, scheduled at the end of this month, will lend pace to it and developed nations, such as the US, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, will start talking in terms of commitments.

“The Commerce Ministry is now set to get a grip on the negotiating positions to hold in all key areas highlighted in the IPEF and will also hold inter-ministerial consultations with line ministries,” the source said.

The IPEF, which comes about five years after the US withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), is seen by some as the US’ attempt to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.