Signaling a major breakthrough in strained US-Taiwan trade relations, the US Trade Representative's (USTR) office could remove Taiwan from its Special 301 "priority watch list" of intellectual property rights violators as early as next week, the Taipei Times has learned.
A decision could be announced next Thursday, a US trade official said in an exclusive interview.
This comes as a senior Taiwanese delegation, headed by Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (陳瑞隆), wound up two days of intensive negotiations in Washington under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the two countries. The session got the TIFA talks on track after a six-year lapse.
Aggressive Taiwanese legislative and executive actions over the past year appears to have settled most of the major trade issues disturbing trade relations between the two sides, according to assessments of the Washington discussions by officials from Taiwan and the US.
The "primary remaining issue" relates to the protection of pharmaceutical patents in Taiwan, according to the US official.
But Chen pointed out that Taiwan has drafted an amendment to its pharmaceutical law to provide exclusivity of patent data, which would provide five years' protection for new chemical entities and three years' protection for other entities.
"This amendment is still in the Legislative Yuan and we will try our best to push it through," Chen told the Taipei Times.
The US official said there are "still some shoes that have to drop" in the pharmaceutical area, but added that Washington is "comfortable" that Taiwan is "taking the steps that have to be taken."
While the US considers the pharmaceutical issue to be part of the intellectual property rights issue, Washington is happy with Taiwan's actions over the past year in dealing with other piracy issues that got Taiwan placed on the Special 301 priority watch list some four years ago.
On IPR, Chen noted that in September Taiwan amended the Copyright Law (
"We are genuinely impressed with the efforts of the Taiwan[ese] government," the US trade official said.
"There is no getting around that Taiwan has done a tremendous amount of IPR in the past year or so. The efforts are paying dividends. We do recognize that," he said.
Significantly, some US industry groups that have long complained about piracy of copyrighted material are now "asking that Taiwan be removed from the priority watch list," the US official said.
"They have said that Taiwan has done a good job in different areas," he said.
Such recommendations are likely to play a big role as the USTR office makes its final decision on the Special 301 list.
The USTR in October issued a notice in the official Federal Register asking for comments on Taiwan's IPR performance, and the comments were returned by the beginning of last month.
The USTR has been studying the comments ever since while deciding on their action.
As a result of the comments and what the US officials heard during this week's two days of TIFA talks, the US trade agency will consult with the industries that had earlier complained about Taiwan's performance, and then make its decision.