US senior commerce envoy Francisco Sanchez begins Taiwan visit
Gradually thawing Taiwan-US relations received a bit more warmth yesterday as Washington sent one of its top trade officials to the island, less than a month after saying that it would grant the island's citizens visa-free entry to the United States.
The US undersecretary of commerce for international trade, Francisco Sanchez, arrived in Taipei for a three-day visit, making him the most senior official from the US Department of Commerce to visit Taiwan since 2002.
"He is visiting Asia to promote President [Barack] Obama's National Travel and Tourism Strategy, in conjunction with Taiwan joining the US' visa waiver programme," the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said in a statement yesterday.
The institute, which represents the US' interests in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, said Sanchez would promote Obama's National Export Initiative - a four-year plan to double US exports by the end of 2014.
"He will highlight the many opportunities for Taiwan investors in the United States through the newly executed SelectUSA Initiative," the statement said.
Sanchez will take part in four events in Taipei today, including signing a letter of intent on a business co-operation pact with Wang Chih-kang, chairman of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.
He will also witness a ceremony marking Taiwan's inclusion, as of tomorrow, in the visa waiver programme.
Sanchez's itinerary also includes meetings with Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and other senior government officials, as well as business leaders. Sanchez is also to deliver a keynote speech at a lunch for members of the business community in Taipei today.
Sanchez is head of the US International Trade Administration, whose tasks include promoting fair trade in the global economy, creating jobs and economic growth by promoting US firms and products, and strengthening American competitiveness across all industries.
He was originally scheduled to visit Taiwan from March 4-6 to promote the export initiative. But just days before his visit, he abruptly cancelled the trip over what the AIT called "unforeseen circumstances", without elaborating.
Taiwanese media, however, noted that the sudden cancellation may have been related to a heated row over Taiwan's ban on imports of US beef containing ractopamine, a drug fed to cattle in the US to make their meat leaner.
Stressing that Taiwan could not afford to lose the trust that it had built with the US, the Ma administration finally pushed through a revised food law in July to allow the import of US beef.
In August, Vice-President Wu Den-yih said that Taiwan was likely to be included in the visa-free programme, which Washington confirmed on October 2.