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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen is keen to get trade talks with the US back on track. Photo: CNA

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
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has appealed to the US to resume regular talks under the umbrella of the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) as the self-ruled island seeks to reduce its economic dependence on the Chinese mainland amid worsening relations.
According to a statement released on Thursday by the presidential office, Tsai made the appeal on Wednesday during a meeting with James Moriarty, the United States’ de facto ambassador to Taiwan, in which she said relations between the two sides were at their best for 40 years.

“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.

President Tsai meet America’s de facto ambassador to Taiwan James Moriarty (2nd left) on Wednesday in Taipei. Photo: CNA
In a report published in March, the Office of the United States Trade Representative expressed concerns at Taiwan’s continued refusal to buy American pork and beef. Taipei says it will not do so on the grounds that US farmers use ractopamine, a feed additive that promotes leanness in animals bred for meat, but which is banned in scores of countries around the world, including the European Union and mainland China, but considered safe in the US.

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.

Talks between the US and Taiwan under the TIFA mechanism have been on hold since 2016. Photo: Reuters

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.

Although Washington severed diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing it has maintained close relations with the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, which outlines America’s willingness to defend Taiwan against any military threat from the mainland.
In August, US President Donald Trump approved the sale of 66 Lockheed Martin F-16V “Viper” fighter jets to Taiwan in a US$8 billion deal that is awaiting ratification by the US Senate.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Tsai seeks to refocus Taiwan’s economy