Tue, Jul 10, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Delegates bullish on US trade talks

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

The government is optimistic about Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks between Taiwan and the US to be held in Washington today, and hopes the meeting will resolve trade disputes and increase US investment in Taiwan.

"Taiwan has made great improvements on several trade issues that have concerned the US," said James Wu (吳新華), spokesman and deputy director-general of the Bureau of Foreign Trade, in a telephone interview. "The talks will improve bilateral trade between Taiwan and the US."

The Taiwanese delegation is led by chief representative of the Office of Trade Negotiation John Deng (鄧振中). Deng's counterpart is deputy US Trade Representative Karan Bhatia.

Following four video conferences before the TIFA negotiations begin, the signing of a bilateral investment agreement (BIA) was included on the agenda for the first time, in which Taiwan may lift some restrictions, such as those in place in the service sector -- to attract more US investment -- Deng said before he departed for the negotiations last week.

The BIA will specify a list of industries that both countries will not open to foreign investment. Both governments will then provide full market access to the sectors that are not included on the list.

Issues to be discussed during the two-day meeting include intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, market access for rice exports and government procurement policies in relation to pharmaceuticals and the telecommunications sector.

IPR protection has been one of the most cited trade barriers by the US, with Internet piracy its latest concern. The US Trade Representative office announced in April it would keep Taiwan on its Special 301 Watch List of countries that are serious IPR violators.

The problem is to be addressed by an amendment to the Copyright Act (著作權法) that was passed by the legislature last month, Wu said.

The amendment forbids Internet operators, including peer-to-peer service providers, from distributing unauthorized content. Besides shutting down their businesses, violators face a maximum two years imprisonment or a maximum NT$500,000 (US$15,200) fine.

The government is also mulling an increase in the rice import quota, currently at 144,720 tonnes per year, Wu said, refusing to give details.

The government hopes the TIFA negotiations will help secure US investment and orders, which are under threat from South Korea, which signed a free trade agreement with the US at the end of last month, Wu said.

As Taiwan and South Korea share the same mainstay exports, the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates that US$2 billion worth of Taiwan's exports to the US may be replaced by South Korean goods.

The US is Taiwan's third-largest trading partner, after China and Japan, with bilateral trade at US$55.02 billion last year. Taiwan exported US$32.36 billion worth of goods to the US last year, mainly electronic, information technology and communications products.

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