Taiwan hails economic talks with US. But it’s not the trade deal it wants

Taipei has been pushing for free-trade talks with the United States. Photo: EPA-EFE

Officials in Taiwan and the United States have applauded the signing of a five-year framework to deepen economic ties, as Beijing seeks to shut Taipei out of key regional trade pacts.

The framework agreement was signed at an inaugural economic dialogue on Friday between Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the United States and the US State Department’s American Institute in Taiwan.

The document highlighted key areas of cooperation, including 5G communications, semiconductors, infrastructure and the Indo-Pacific. But it stopped short of mentioning a free-trade deal long sought by Taipei.

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On Saturday night, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the dialogue “strengthens our economic relationship even further”, while Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu described it as “another great step forward in a relationship going from strength to strength”.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Sunday afternoon that relations between Taiwan and the US were continuing to grow stronger after the dialogue, and that she looked forward to “continuing our robust partnership with the US in the interests of peace, democracy, and freedom across the region”.

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Under the framework, the two parties will have annual economic talks, as well as seek further cooperation in science and technology, strengthening supply chains, protecting their economies from foreign interference, advancing global health security and promoting women’s economic empowerment.

Chen Chern-chyi, Taiwan’s deputy minister of economic affairs, who took part in the dialogue, said the platform was not related to trade talks, saying those discussions would fall under the auspices of the US Trade Representative Office rather than State Department.

Chen also said the dialogue mechanism would not replace the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks that have been stalled since 2016.

Tsai’s administration has tried to pave the way for free-trade talks with the US by easing restrictions on American pork and beef, but the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden has signalled that such deals will not be a priority without investment in US manufacturing.

Taiwan, US to hold new economic dialogue but hopes for trade deal ‘on back-burner’

The memorandum comes as Taiwan pushes for membership of the Japan-led Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), after it was excluded from the Regional Comprehensive Trade Partnership deal between China and 14 other countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday that China would also “favourably consider” joining the CPTPP, the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement which fell apart after the US withdrew from it in 2017.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own, and has strongly objected to any sign of the self-ruled island asserting sovereignty.

Nevertheless, ties between Taiwan and the US have strengthened in recent months, with Andrew Wheeler, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, expected to travel to the island in December in the third visit by a senior US official since August.

In response to the announcement of Wheeler’s visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the US needed to “fully grasp the sensitivity of the Taiwan question” and “immediately halt their official ties and interactions with Taiwan in any form”.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

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