Thu, Feb 12, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Move expected on Taiwan-US FTA

NEGOTIATIONS Rupert Hammond-Chambers, head of the US-Taiwan Business Council, says progress on removing trade frictions should lead to high-level talks

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

Progress toward a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Taiwan and the US, stymied for more than a year, is likely to see some "significant movement" after the March 20 presidential election, according to a leading trade executive.

The US side has been increasingly interested since the end of last year in resuming the exchange of high-level visits that could lead to a resumption of the dialogue toward an FTA, says Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council.

That high-level dialogue was suspended by Washington at the beginning of 2002 when the US decided it was getting nowhere in trying to solve a number of trade issues that had poisoned US-Taiwan trade relations, primarily intellectual property rights (IPR) violations in Taiwan.

"There does seem to be an interest in getting things moving again, moving beyond the stalemate," Hammond-Chambers said.

He made the comment after appearing on a panel on the implication of Taiwan's presidential election for the US, sponsored in Washington by his organization and the Heritage Foundation.

He said he expects some high-level visits after the election "to get people talking not only about things that have negatively impacted our relationship, but what comes next."

The American Institute in Taiwan, the Office of the United States Trade Representative and other US offices are involved in the effort to restart the dialogue, he said. Those organizations "all report progress, all point to headway," in contacts established so far, he said.

The progress has been made on all four main trade frictions between the two sides -- IPR, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and agriculture, he said.

The optical media law passed last year, Hammond-Chambers said, was "quite good," noting that the last-minute changes made in the Legislative Yuan were pushed through by the People First Party, not President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Democratic Progressive Party.

"There is a recognition within our government that the Chen administration is trying to do the right thing," he said.

Hammond-Chambers feels that the dialogue will resume irrespective of who wins the presidency. If Chen wins, there is a recognition in Washington that he has "pushed hard in some areas and has tried to make progress in good faith."

If the ticket of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) wins, "you've got a new team" with the opportunities that come with such a change, he said.

In any event, no FTA is likely possible before the US presidential elections in November, he said.

Earlier reports said that US-Taiwan consultations under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) are expected to resume this fall at a high level, the first such meeting since 1998. The meeting will reflect the US feeling that Taiwan has made progress on IPR, as demonstrated by a sharp drop in US seizures of pirated goods trying to enter the US.

A sign of Washington's official view of Taiwan's progress on the IPR issue will come on April 30, when the Office of the United States Trade Representative releases its decision on whether to remove Taiwan from the so-called "Special 301" priority list of territories with particularly poor performances in tackling piracy.

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