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Taiwan

Ignore Beijing: Washington, Taipei should agree fair trade deal, boss of American chamber says

US ally is ‘an important trading partner that should be treated on its own merits, regardless of what other countries might say’, business leader says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 3:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 11:16pm

The United States should consider the establishment of a trade agreement with Taiwan and hold more high-level exchanges with the self-ruled island, regardless of Beijing’s protestations, a business leader on the island has said.

William Foreman, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei, said that as well as opening negotiations on the creation of a bilateral fair trade agreement, the two sides should seek to resume regular talks under the umbrella of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which have been on hold since October 2016.

“Taiwan is an important market and trading partner, and ally of the United States,” Foreman said. “It should be treated for its own merits, regardless of what other neighbouring countries might say.”

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With China and the US currently engaged in a tense trade dispute, his comments are unlikely to go down well in Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a breakaway province. Relations between Taipei and Beijing have also been frosty since Tsai Ing-wen, from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, was elected president of Taiwan in 2016.

Washington maintains official diplomatic relations with Beijing but continues to support Taiwan with a long-standing mutual defence treaty and regular arms sales. The US will also open its US$250 million de facto embassy in Taipei in September.

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“I think the United States is looking for parties who are interested in doing some kind of agreement, and right now it’s kind of obvious that a lot of countries don’t want to do that with the [US President Donald] Trump administration,” Foreman said.

“Taiwan would be one that would be more interested in something like that.”

One of the stumbling blocks during earlier talks on a possible trade deal between Washington and Taipei was pork, which Foreman said had “kind of derailed the process”.

The problem was that Taiwan objected to US pork farmers’ use of the chemical ractopamine in animal feed, which is banned in most countries.

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According to the American chamber’s website, its members discussed the meat issue during their annual visit to the US last month, when they met officials from the State Department, Commerce Department, National Security Council and Office of the Trade Representative.

Despite Beijing’s efforts to limit Taipei’s influence on the world stage – by pressuring other economies into not signing free-trade agreements with it and forcing airlines to stop categorising Taiwan as a country – Foreman said he remained optimistic about the business environment on the island.

The American chamber would also continue working to help Taiwan be more open to international business and inbound investment to counteract pressure from Beijing, he said.

“Taiwan is always going to face a lot of pressure from its neighbour, and it needs to counterbalance that,” he said.

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“We believe that if Taiwan turns into itself and has kind of a circle-the-wagons approach, an isolationist approach, then that’s a losing strategy. The best strategy for Taiwan is to open up more to the rest of the world – become more international like Hong Kong and Singapore, become more deeply connected to the global economy,” he said.

“We don’t want the business and economic and trade ties to become politicised because that really hurts both sides of the Taiwan Strait.”