By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday the United States should return to a regional trade pact it quit in 2017 if it wanted to engage economically with the Indo-Pacific region.
Speaking on a visit to Washington, Ardern said that multinational agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), was the "gold standard," but New Zealand would continue to push for greater access to the U.S. market even without it.
"If the United States is looking to engage in our region economically, then that is the place to do it," she said of the CPTPP, which the Biden administration has been reluctant to return to given concerns about the impact on U.S. jobs.
Ardern told reporters the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), which U.S. President Joe Biden launched this week in Tokyo with 12 other countries, including her own, was a "starting point for a discussion" on digital issues, climate issues, and on reducing frictions.
But speaking after meeting members of the U.S. Congress, Ardern said she had sought to emphasize the need to expand trading opportunities and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.
She said IPEF could offer opportunities to resolve non-traditional trade blockages such as those that had help create shortages of baby formula in the United States.
"So that is an opportunity and opening for us. We will take that, but we will keep advocating for market access too."
Biden launched IPEF as part of U.S. efforts to push back against China's expanding influence, but it offers none of the tariff relief or expanded market access the region craves.
Ardern said New Zealand was engaged in IPEF in good faith.
"It's better to be at the table shaping those discussions than not, but we will keep pushing at every step for market access," she said.
Ardern is in the United States seeking to boost exports and lure more tourists as New Zealand looks to fully reopen its borders after more than two years of COVID-19 restrictions.
Neither Ardern, who is recovering herself from a recent COVID-19 infection, nor the White House, have yet announced plans for her to meet with Biden. The United States and New Zealand are close allies, but such a meeting has been uncertain given strict White House pandemic protocols.
Ardern said she met U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Tuesday and is due to deliver Harvard University's commencement address in Boston on Thursday.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Richard Pullin)