Taiwan and the US will resume trade talks tomorrow after a five-year hiatus, building on a fresh high in relations late last year when Washington extended the waiving of visa requirements to cover island residents.
Worried farmers, however, have warned the government of President Ma Ying-jeou against bowing to US pressure and lifting a long-time ban on US pork containing what the Americans say is a safe level of leanness-enhancing ractopamine.
The new round of talks on the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), originally scheduled to begin on Monday, was moved ahead one day to fit in with the schedule of the head of the US delegation, Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, officials said.
Marantis would co-host the talks in Taipei along with Taiwan's Deputy Economics Minister Chao Shih-chao and they would be followed by a joint press conference tomorrow night, officials from the American Institute in Taiwan said. The institute represents Washington's interests in Taipei in the absence of formal ties.
"The TIFA is the core mechanism through which the United States and Taiwan explore ways to deepen our economic relationship, and ambassador Marantis is eager to meet with his Taiwanese counterparts," the American Institute in Taiwan said. It also said the rest of the US delegation would take part in related bilateral meetings on Monday and Tuesday.
The institute stopped short of elaborating on the agenda for the talks, but Taiwanese media and farmers have speculated that the discussions might touch on Taiwan's ban on imports of US pork.
The Office of the US Trade Representative released a report on March 1 that blamed Taiwan's reluctance to establish maximum residue levels for the leanness-enhancing drug in pork for "disrupting" US exports.
Concerned Taiwanese farmers and consumers groups have threatened to stage protests if the Ma government once again concedes to the US on meat imports.
After coming under persistent, strong pressure from the US, the Ma government lifted a ban on US beef containing "safe levels" of residual ractopamine last year, leading to Washington's agreement to grant visa waivers to Taiwanese visitors and resume TIFA talks with Taipei. Taiwan signed TIFA with the US in 1994 as a framework for bilateral trade dialogue in the absence of formal ties. But the island's ban on beef imports resulted in the US stalling on the trade talks since 2007.
Both Ma and new Taiwanese Premier Dr Jiang Yi-huah have vowed to maintain the pork ban.