Thu, Mar 26, 2015 - Page 14 News List

TPP ‘a matter of life and death,’ Steve Chen says

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is a matter of “life and death” for Taiwan, former minister of economic affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆) told a Washington conference on Tuesday.

He said that Taipei was “desperate” to join the TPP and urged the US to support Taiwan’s struggle to get a foot in the door.

Chen, now chairman of Powerchip Technology Corp (力晶科技), is in Washington with a powerful and large delegation — led by former vice minister of economic affairs and head trade negotiator Francis Liang (梁國新) — to attend the Select USA Investment Summit.

At the same time, the delegation is meeting with US political and business leaders to lobby for TPP support.

Liang, now chairman of the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA, 貿協), told the Carnegie Endowment conference on Taiwan’s economic role in the Asia-Pacific region that trade opportunities for those outside the TPP network would “disappear or be drastically reduced.”

While Taiwanese officials have frequently stressed the importance of TPP membership, they have not previously used such dramatic language.

Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) director Doug Paal, now director of the Asia program at Carnegie, moderated the conference and said that TPP negotiations were “moving quietly below the surface” at Capitol Hill.

Twelve countries, including the US and Japan, are now negotiating the launch of the TPP free-trade agreement and Taiwan hopes to join in a second round of expansion talks set to start after the initial launch.

Liang said that if Taiwan does not become a member of TPP, the nation’s businesses would face 6 to 10 percent tariffs, while their competitors enjoy duty-free treatment in the same vital markets.

He said the 12 countries involved in the initial TPP negotiations represent more than one-third of Taiwan’s current foreign trade.

“Not being a member would have a severe impact,” Liang said. “It is not a choice for us — it is an imperative.”

Liang said there are some domestic challenges and reforms needed for Taiwan to qualify for TPP membership, but that they could be dealt with.

He said that Taiwan needed the “open, clear and strong support” of the US.

“We are here to send a very strong message to the US; to urge the US to support Taiwan to join the TPP as soon as possible,” Chen said.

He said Taiwan feels “isolated and marginalized” because it has not been able to join other free-trade agreements and that the TPP is essential for Taiwan to maintain the momentum of trade liberalization.

“We are here to convince the US that it is not only in the interests of Taiwan, but also in the interests of the US to support Taiwan’s membership in TPP,” Chen said.

“We need the US to take a leadership role in supporting Taiwan,” he added. “We are ready to put everything on the table.”

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