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Washington still non-committal on FTA with Taiwan

Taipei Times, Taiwan

Washington still non-committal on FTA with Taiwan

By Charles Snyder, Staff Reporter in Washington

15 June 2007

A senior US trade official on Wednesday committed the Bush administration to strengthening trade ties with Taiwan, but was noncosmmittal in terms of the possibility of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Taiwan and the US.

Karan Bhatia, the deputy US trade representative in charge of trade relations with China and Taiwan, told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the recently concluded FTA with South Korea that a Taiwan-US FTA would be impossible without the extension of a key trade law that allows the president to negotiate agreements and limits Congress to a yes-or-no vote.

Without the law, called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which expires at the end of this month, congressional debate over trade agreements usually dooms them or delays them for prolonged periods.

It is the virtually unanimous opinion of people in Washington that TPA will be allowed to die on schedule this month.

Bhatia made his comments in response to a question by Representative Tom Tancredo, a leading supporter of Taiwan in the House of Representatives, who said that in failing to sign a US-Taiwan FTA "I fear that we are driving Taipei into the arms of Beijing."

In response, Bhatia said an extension of TPA is needed "for any contemplation of any FTA with any partner."

Bhatia said that a fresh round of talks on the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with Taiwan would be held in Washington this summer.

"In the administration, we are obviously very focused and committed to deepening and strengthening our trade relationships with Taiwan as a major trading partner for us," he said.

TIFA, he said, is "not quote an FTA, but it is a comprehensive effort to address trade and investment barriers that might preclude or otherwise prevent the integration of the economic relationship."

The TIFA talks are "going very well ... We are working concretely to address barriers sector by sector with Taiwan, be it in the investment area, be it in trade in agricultural goods, be it in trade in services. And it’s proving to be quite successful," Bhatia said.