Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen calls for resumption of TIFA talks with US as tensions rise with Beijing
- With relations between Taipei and Washington at their best for 40 years, time is ripe to restart trade negotiations under Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, leader says
- But Washington unlikely to agree to Tsai’s proposal unless island lifts its ban on American beef and pork, analyst says
“We hope with such a good foundation our two sides can swiftly [restart the] talks … to promote trade development,” she was quoted as saying.
Relations between Taiwan and the US have improved significantly since Tsai was elected president in 2016 and refused to accept the ”one country, two systems” model proposed by Beijing choosing instead to join Washington’s security alliance in countering Beijing’s military expansion in the Indo-Pacific region.
Last month, a high-powered delegation from Taiwan signed a deal in the US to buy US$3.7 billion worth of agricultural products over the next two years. Tsai said the agreement was indicative of the goodwill the island felt towards the world’s largest economy.
The TIFA was signed in 1994 and for more than two decades served as a major negotiating channel for high-ranking officials to discuss trade issues. But since September 2016 those discussions have stalled, initially because US trade officials said they did not have the time but also, according to analysts, because of Taipei’s long-standing ban on American beef and pork products.
“The two sides have been held back by the pork and beef issue since their last talks in 2016,” said Yen Chen-shen, a senior researcher at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations in Taipei.
Washington has made the removal of the ban a precondition for the resumption of the TIFA talks but Taipei, under pressure from local farmers, has so far declined to comply.
Yen said that lifting the ban would trigger protests by Taiwanese farmers, something Tsai was keen to avoid with the island’s presidential election now just three months away.
“But with relations [between Taipei and Beijing] worsening by the day, Tsai needs to consider the possibility that Beijing could cancel the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 during Ma Ying-jeou’s time as [Taiwanese] president, which offers preferential treatment for a host of Taiwanese exports to the mainland,” he said.
The Chinese mainland was the destination for about 40 per cent of Taiwan’s exports, he said, so the island was keen to boost trade with the US to reduce that dependence.
A spokesman for the Association of Taiwan Investment Enterprises on the Mainland told a press conference on Wednesday evening that the group feared Beijing would cancel the deal due to the poor state of relations across the Taiwan Strait.