India's Modi joins launch of new trade pact before Quad summit in Tokyo

Informal grouping of US, Australia, Japan and India intended to counter China's growing influence in Asia-Pacific region

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, US President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework in Tokyo. EPA
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India’s Prime Minister said his country fully backed a new Asia-Pacific trade agreement launched after he arrived in Tokyo on Monday.

Narendra Modi was in the Japanese capital taking part in the fourth Quadrilateral Security Dialogue summit with the leaders of Japan, the US and Australia.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an initiative of US President Joe Biden, focuses on the digital economy, supply chains, clean energy infrastructure and anti-corruption measures in the region.

The launch was attended by Mr Biden, Mr Modi, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, while leaders of other member states took part virtually. The pact includes Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

Australia's new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese boarded a plane for Tokyo after being sworn into office on Monday morning.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, known as the Quad, is an informal strategic grouping promoted by Washington mainly to counter China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. Its last meeting was held virtually in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The US has been pushing the new trade agreement with allied countries in the region as a counterweight to Beijing’s economic influence in the Asia-Pacific.

“IPEF is a declaration of a collective desire to make the Indo-Pacific region an engine of global economic growth,” Mr Modi said at the launch.

He expressed India’s commitment to working with all members to make the pact both “inclusive and flexible” and collaborate on regional economic connectivity, integration and boosting trade and investment within the region, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

Mr Modi held meetings with prominent Japanese businessmen earlier on Monday, including Nobuhiro Endo, chairman of the multinational NEC; Osama Suzuki of Suzuki Motors; and Softbank director Masayoshi Son to discuss opportunities for business with India.

He is expected to hold separate bilateral meetings with Mr Kishida, whom he hosted for the 14th India-Japan Annual Summit in March, and Mr Albanese to discuss co-operation between India and Australia under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

The Quad summit comes amid global upheaval caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has pushed up energy and food prices.

The US, Australia and Japan have criticised the Kremlin over the war but India — Russia’s Cold War ally — has adopted a neutral stance despite pressure from the West.

New Delhi has increased oil purchases from Russia in recent months and continues its strategic and defence partnership with its largest arms supplier.

The leaders are expected to discuss the pandemic and review progress on the Quad Vaccine Initiative — a supply chain to address present and future pandemic situations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The project, taken up in March last year, will lead to the US developing vaccines, India manufacturing them, Japan providing finance and Australia logistics support. It was meant to be up and running by the end of this year but has been delayed over questions of indemnity and other issues.

Updated: May 23, 2022, 2:15 PM