Thu, Jul 10, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US twists Taiwan's arm on official trips

TRADE Washington has suspended all trips by high-ranking trade officials in an attempt to stop what it sees as Taiwan's foot-dragging on three key issues

By Monique Chu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Officials yesterday confirmed that the US has temporarily suspended visits of high-ranking US trade officials in view of what Washington saw as foot-dragging on three thorny trade issues.

A government insider told the Taipei Times under condition of anonymity: "It's true that the US assistant secretary of commerce and officials above that level have suspended their visits to Taiwan."

The official was commenting in response to a Chinese-language newspaper report filed from Washington yesterday.

The report said the US has suspended such visits while declining to allow trade officials from Taiwan at the ministerial level to meet with their counterparts in Washington.

A high-ranking government official said the US deemed it "unnecessary" to host any high-level ministerial meetings before three thorny trade issues are resolved between Taipei and Washington.

The official identified these issues as intellectual property rights (IPR) and imports of rice and pharmaceuticals from the US.

"These questions have been there for a long time, and these issues have not been resolved from the US standpoint," admitted the official.

"Prolonged pressure from the US has been ongoing for the past six months and up to a year. Although these problems have been partially resolved, the US is still not satisfied," the official added.

Officials declined to interpret the US decision regarding exchanges of high-level official visits as Washington's attempt at arm-twisting in the negotiation on these trade issues.

Three high-ranking US trade officials visited Taiwan last year and touched upon these thorny issues while meeting officials in Taipei, insiders said.

William Lash, the assistant secretary of commerce for market access and compliance, visited Taipei in January last year, while Grant Aldonas, under-secretary of commerce for international trade administration, came to Taipei that April.

Joseph Papovich, assistant US trade representative, visited Taipei last October.

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the US de facto embassy, yesterday declined to comment on the report from Washington, while reiterating the US stance on the three trade issues.

"We have no comment on the stories out of Washington," said Judith Mudd-Krijgelmans, spokesperson for AIT.

"The US has a commercial agenda with Taiwan, and it is natural that problems arise that need attention," Mudd-Krijgelmans said.

"AIT has in the past called attention to the need for better protection of intellectual property rights and effective implementation of Taiwan's commitments under the WTO, including rice imports and fair and unimpeded access for US pharmaceuticals," she said.

A trade official said solutions to these issues have become rather "complicated" as cross-ministerial coordination is instrumental in resolving these problems.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Richard Shih (石瑞琦) said US-Taiwan ties will not be affected by bilateral talks over these issues.

Shih highlighted what the government saw as the nation's continuous efforts to crack down on piracy through law amendment and enforcement.

Shih cited an annual report by the US-based Business Software Alliance (BSA) in June highlighting Taiwan's improvement in IPR protection.

According to the BSA report, the piracy rate in the Asia-Pacific region declined 13 percentage points, from 68 percent in 1994 to 55 percent in 2002.

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