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US official to visit Taiwan amid trade talks push

AFP | 1 August 2012

US official to visit Taiwan amid trade talks push

TAIPEI — A senior US diplomat is to visit Taiwan this month, officials said Wednesday, as Taipei looks to resume free trade talks with Washington after lifting a six-year-old ban on some US beef imports.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez will visit Taiwan on Sunday and meet President Ma Ying-jeou, the de facto US embassy said.

The visit would particularly focus on trade, investment and tourism, the American Institute in Taiwan said in a statement.

Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but has since remained the leading arms supplier to the island.

Although resuming the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), which has been dormant since 2007 due to the beef import dispute, was not officially on the table, the timing of the visit has sparked attention.

Taiwan’s 113-seat parliament, controlled by the ruling Kuomintang party, last week passed a bill to amend a law that had barred imports of US beef containing a growth drug used in animal feed to promote lean meat.

Washington had described the beef dispute as the biggest barrier to the stalled trade negotiations and Taipei hopes that the talks, often a precursor to a fully fledged free trade agreement, can now resume.

Taiwan has made it clear that it hopes to seek closer ties with Washington while pressing for improved relations with Beijing.

Taipei and Beijing are expected to forge a much-anticipated investment protection agreement in the next round of high-level talks in Taiwan next week.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, and Beijing says it reserves the right to use force to take back the island.

But ties between the two have improved significantly since the Beijing-friendly and business-focused Kuomintang party took power in Taipei in 2008, with the two signing a sweeping trade pact in 2010.

 source: AFP