A group of US congressmen have introduced legislation urging US President George W. Bush to give preference to Taiwan as his administration considers which countries to consider for potential free-trade agreements.
The bill, which expresses the "sense of Congress," urges Bush to "make the conclusion of a free-trade agreement between the United States and Taiwan one of the top priorities of the United States when initiating bilateral free-trade agreements with foreign countries.
The bill was sponsored by representatives Robert Andrews, a Democrat who is one of Taiwan's biggest champions in the House of Representatives, and Ed Royce, a Republican who is also a big congressional fan of Taiwan.
Several other House members are expected to co-sponsor the measure.
The bill is the first new Taiwan-related measure introduced since the current Congress reconvened for its second session last month.
The bill, which would be non-binding, recalls the 50 years of close relationship between the US and Taiwan, and cites Taiwan's democracy. It notes that Taiwan is a member of the WTO and singles out agricultural trade between the two countries.
"A free-trade agreement between the United States and Taiwan would provide recognition of Taiwan's status as a free and democratic nation and would further enhance Taiwan's democracy," the bill states.
The issue of a free-trade agreement first surfaced as an important international economic issue between Washington and other nations in August 2002, when Congress approved a trade law that created the so-called "fast track" authority in which the president could negotiate a trade pact that would not be subject to earlier congressional impediments.
Since then, the Bush administration has concluded pacts with a number of countries, including Australia, Jordan, Morocco, Singapore and several Central American nations.
The US International Trade Commission, at the request of two prominent senators, conducted a study some years ago of the benefits of a free-trade agreement with Taiwan, and found benefits for both sides.
But opposition by China has prevented the Bush administration from moving ahead with negotiations toward a pact with Taiwan ever since.
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