Taiwan presses for US trade pact

Tue Jul 25, 2006

Taiwan presses for US trade pact

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Taiwan urged the United States to move quickly to forge a free-trade agreement (FTA) with America’s eighth biggest trading partner, despite bitter objections from China.

Vice Economics Minister Chen Ruey-long acknowledged that Taiwan is some way down the queue as the US administration rushes to wrap up FTAs with South Korea and Malaysia before it loses its "fast-track" negotiating powers next year.

"That is fully understandable that if we want to be on the top of the waiting list of the US, we have to make more efforts to have strong support from both the US business community and the US Congress," he told a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think-tank.

"And eventually I do believe that certainly the US government will have to look to their business community whether they do see opportunities of an FTA with Taiwan," he said.

But the minister added: "We do believe that before the end of this year would be the best window of opportunity to initiate the process.

"So precisely in the next six months this will be the focus of our efforts to promote our FTA with the United States."

AEI experts were in no doubt that China’s strident opposition to Taiwan’s attempts to assert itself on the global stage lay behind the US reluctance to open FTA talks with the island, a booming hub of high-tech industries.

AEI resident scholar Claude Barfield noted also that investments by US businesses in Taiwan, however high, were "dwarfed" by their interests in mainland China.

But he said that Taiwan was the "obvious candidate economically" for a trade pact with the United States, ahead of Malaysia or Latin American countries.

"The decision is really very much on a foreign policy basis," he said.

"Because of China’s unwavering bullying of nations in East Asia, most of them have refused to sign FTAs with Taiwan. So Taiwan is becoming increasingly isolated in East Asia," Barfield added.

The United States and Taiwan have had a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) since 1994.

But while others such as the smaller economy of Malaysia have used the TIFA pact as a springboard to launch FTA negotiations with Washington, Taiwan continues to languish.

Visiting Taipei in May, Deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia said it would be "premature" to open FTA talks with Taiwan given the packed agenda for US negotiators before next June’s expiry of Trade Promotion Authority.

Bhatia called on Taiwan to better enforce intellectual property rights laws, further open its agricultural sector to American products, and continue the modernization of its financial sector.

Chen said that his government was doing all that already, and spelt out the economic benefits of an FTA between two trading powers whose bilateral commerce last year reached 57 billion dollars — more than US trade with France.

Citing a study by the United States International Trade Commission, he said an FTA would boost the two-way exchange in goods and services by 3.4 billion dollars a year to start with.

Chen also noted declarations of support for Taiwan’s FTA ambitions from more than 100 US lawmakers including senior Republicans and Democrats in both chambers of Congress.

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source: AFP