The Bush administration will do nothing to advance a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan unless Taiwan mobilizes a widespread coalition of US businesses in favor of an FTA to lobby Congress to pressure the administration into action, a key US congressman told a Washington symposium on a US-Taiwan FTA on Tuesday.
An FTA "will not happen" without such a coalition, Representative Robert Andrews, one of Taiwan's main supporters in the House, said at the symposium, which was hosted by five leading Taiwanese-American organizations.
His message was echoed by other presenters at the symposium.
Among the presenters was Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen (
It was Chen's first trip to the US since last November, when he came to resurrect high-level trade talks with the US.
While it was speculated that Chen will meet with US trade officials again during his Washington trip to try to advance US-Taiwan trade relations, he would not confirm this.
"We will see whether my schedule will permit me to see some of the officials," Chen told the Taipei Times after his presentation at the symposium.
It is felt that Chen would try to see Assistant US Trade Representative Charles Freeman, the key US official involved with trade relations with Taipei, whom he met last November for talks under the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA).
While declining to say whether he would meet Freeman again, Chen said "I think we have maintained close contact with the US government, because a lot of trade is going on between the two countries. So, whenever there is a trade issue, we certainly will continue our dialogue with the US government."
Regarding the prospects for a US-Taiwan FTA, Chen said he believes "we are moving in a very good direction. I think we have been making all kinds of efforts to try to see whether pretty soon there will be good results."
"The strong support from the private sector is very important. We do believe that over the past 40 years we do have a lot of friends in the US private sector, and we will continue to ask for their support," he said.
Andrews, in his speech, stressed that the Bush administration will not move toward a Taiwan FTA on its own.
"There is prospect for progress, but it will have to come from outside Washington, and outside the executive branch," he said.
"The most important motivating force in American politics is money. Corporate America and the American work force would stand to gain very considerably from this agreement," he said.
"Building a commercial coalition of agricultural interests, telecommunication interests, importers of consumer goods and others is needed to do this," he said.
"This will not happen if such a coalition is not built," he said.
"When that coalition is built, there will be some pressure on Congress. Once there is pressure on Congress, that will begin to get the attention of the executive branch," he said.
"Without those things, there are no prospects. With those things, I believe there are," Andrews said.
Regarding the State Department, Andrews said, "this agreement will not happen if the state department is steering the issue. It will happen only if a body of political support is developed in Congress."
Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, outlined a strategy of building support among American business interests in various congressional districts as a way of pressuring those representatives to join in a pro-Taiwan coalition.