Sun, May 26, 2002 - Page 3 News List

US officials tell TSU that trade agreement hinges on the WTO

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

US officials have told a visiting TSU delegation that Washington's willingness to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taipei might hinge on how well Taiwan fulfills its commitments as a member of the WTO, a TSU delegate said.

"They say that right now we have to fulfil our commitment to the WTO as part of the mechanism [toward an FTA] because the WTO is the basic framework for a bilateral trade agreement with the United States," TSU Legislator John Wang (王政中), a member of the Legislative Yuan's Foreign Relations Committee, told the Taipei Times.

"They're supportive of an FTA, but they are saying that one of the prerequisites is we need to fulfill our commitments to the WTO, or at least show that we've made progress," he said.

The delegation, headed by TSU Chairman Huang Chu-wen (黃主文), arrived in Washington late Wednesday and spent two days in discussions with mem-bers of Congress, the American Institute in Taiwan and administration officials.

Among their meetings was a session with three of the four founding co-chairmen of the newly created Congressional Taiwan Caucus -- Democrat Sherrod Brown, Republican Steve Chabot and Democrat Robert Wexler -- plus long-time Taiwan supporter, Senator Frank Murkowski.

They also went to a dinner hosted by outgoing AIT director Richard Bush and attended by State Department and other US officials.

The delegation brought letters of greeting from former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who was originally scheduled to make this trip but was sidelined by a heart ailment.

Huang said that any future Lee trip would depend on what his doctors say.

The topic of the agreement, along with Taiwan's membership in various international organizations including the World Health Organization, were the main topics of conversation, Huang and other delegation members said.

Taiwan's security and the US role in assuring that security was also raised, but delegates indicate that it came up mainly in connection with the FTA.

Taiwanese officials have stressed that such a trade agreement would boost Taiwan's strategic position by further integrating it into the global trade system, boosting its flagging economy and reinforcing ties with the US.

Huang, who had a meeting with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) about the trip before his group departed Taipei, brought with him greetings from the president.

But lawmaker Eric Wu (吳東昇), a member of the delegation, said that the question of a future visit to Washington by Chen was not raised in the meetings with the US officials, as far as he knew.

Huang told a press conference that the main purpose of the trip was to introduce the TSU members to US officials and lawmakers and to explain the party's platform and thinking.

The trip was the first to Washington by the one-year-old party.

Meanwhile, Congressional Taiwan Caucus co-chairman Wexler has sent a letter to US International Trade Commission Chairman Steve Koplon to express his strong support for an FTA.

The commission, an independent government agency that recommends trade policy to the administration, is conducting an investigation on a possible US-Taiwan FTA and is expected to issue its findings in October.

"As a strong supporter for upgrading our overall trade relations with Taiwan, I believe that the proposed free trade agreement ... merits careful evaluation and deserves strong support," Wexler said in his letter.

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