Mon, Sep 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Walter Lohman on Taiwan: Taiwan caught in the crossfire on trade

Third and most immediately relevant, the effect of tariffs imposed on American imports of steel. It has always been a dubious case that imports of steel from allies like Canada and Japan to the US constitute threats to national security. Given its dependence on the US for its security, the case concerning Taiwan’s steel exports is particularly strained. Even so, the Taiwanese have not relied on this argument for an exemption. Taipei has offered, instead, to do whatever the Trump administration demands.

Initially, Taiwanese officials had difficulty making the contact necessary to state their position. Since this spring, however, they have made abundantly clear directly to both the US Trade Representative and Commerce the steps they are prepared to take. Among other things, the Taiwanese have volunteered to restrain their steel exports to the United States; they have offered to strengthen measures to prevent any transshipment of Chinese steel through Taiwan; and they have offered to initiate more anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases against imported Chinese steel — something, in fact, they have already started to do.

In short, the Taiwanese have presented themselves as an ideal partner for the Trump administration. Yet, although Argentina, Australia, Brazil, and South Korea have all received exemptions for reaching such deals — and the US has launched talks with the EU — Taiwan is still waiting for a phone call.

It shouldn’t have to.

Washington is in the midst of a momentous debate over the way it formulates trade policy, the domestic interests it prioritizes and the relationship between trade and foreign policy. This debate turns on big economic, political, and philosophical considerations. At most, the impact on Taiwan will serve as a minor plank in the argument for a return to an approach to trade that promotes economic freedom. Taipei cannot reasonably expect otherwise. What it can expect is that when it is directly affected — as in the case of steel — its constructive offers will be taken up.

Walter Lohman is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

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