Taiwan, US to talk every quarter: Cho

ONE-SIDED?:Despite the latest round of bilateral negotiations being heralded as a success, one lawmaker said the trade principles agreed on benefited the US, not Taiwan

By Helen Ku and Chris Wang  /  Staff reporters

Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - Page 13

Taiwan is planing to conduct trade negotiations with the US on a quarterly basis, Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Bill Cho (卓士昭) said yesterday as the seventh round of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) ended in Taipei.

“The seventh round of talks has strengthened trade ties between the two countries,” Cho told the Taipei Times by telephone. “The government will continue to hold trade discussions with the US on a quarterly basis through the two newly founded divisions in the Ministry of Economic Affairs to enhance bilateral trade and investment ties, and seek further assistance from the US in trade liberalization.”

Cho also echoed the hope voiced by Deputy US Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis that future TIFA talks could be held annually.

The eighth round of TIFA talks is expected to take place in Washington next year.

The ministry said it expects future discussions could remove bilateral trade and investment barriers and further pave the way for Taiwan to sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the US and ultimately become a member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Economists have called on the government to accelerate efforts to catch up with South Korea, which has inked an FTA with the US and been invited to join the TPP.

Compared with South Korea, “Taiwan needs to make more of an effort in trade liberalization if it wants to sign an FTA with the US,” Cho said.

After a six-year long suspension imposed in 2007, Taiwan and the US reopened TIFA negotiations on Sunday, reaching consensuses on trade principles for the information and communications technology (ICT) service sector, as well as on international investments.

The latest talks also covered subjects such as signing a multilateral FTA aimed at further liberalizing economies in the Asia-Pacific region, intellectual property, food safety and agricultural trade.

Darson Chiu (邱達生), an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (TIER, 台灣經濟研究院) think tank, yesterday said it would not be easy for Taipei to ink an FTA with Washington or join the TPP unless it made sacrifices or compromises on the ban on US pork imports and other agricultural products.

“As the world’s largest economy, the US does not see Taiwan as being greatly important and so will not give it preferential treatment on specific issues, such as US pork imports. If Taiwan got special treatment, the US’ other trade partners may complain,” Chiu said by telephone.

Given that Taiwan is the US’ 11th-largest trading partner by volume and the US is the largest economy importing Taiwan-made products, the agreements over principles for the ICT service sector and international trade benefit Taipei, he said.

“The key is the US’ stance: If Washington supports Taipei joining the TPP, no other country will oppose its candidacy, but follow the US’ lead,” Chiu said.

Taking Vietnam and Malaysia as examples, Chiu said the two countries’ trade regulations are less liberalized than Taiwan’s, but both have been admitted into the TPP.

“The US has its priorities and it does not yet see the importance of supporting Taiwan as much as it can,” Chiu said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Hsu Chung-hsin (許忠信) said Taiwan had gone backward instead of forward in the seventh round of TIFA talks.

While the two sides agreed on trade principles for the ICT service sector and international investments on Sunday, those were “principles rather than concrete agreements and Taiwan does not stand to gain anything from them,” Hsu said yesterday.

Hsu said the agreement to expand bilateral cooperation on the International Technology Agreement and the International Service Agreement would aid the US because it has a large service sector, but would hurt Taiwan.

Despite the government reiterating its pledge to keep the ban on US pork imports in place, the lawmaker suspected that the position would be abandoned due to strong pressure from Washington and the desire to join the TPP.

Hsu also said the US appeared to have interfered with Taiwan’s domestic affairs on various fronts with its demands during the talks.

For example, the US was concerned about the Drug Expenditure Target system used by Taiwan’s National Health Insurance and complained about regulations on the sale of new imported drugs, he said.