The US has a broad interest in the "globalization stakes" of Taiwan's bid to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with it, a former official with the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said recently.
From a more global perspective, the advantages of a US-Taiwan FTA are particularly decisive, said Merritt (Terry) Cooke, who previously served as a senior foreign commercial service officer with the AIT Taipei Office, in a report carried in the latest issue of Orbis quarterly published by the Philadelphia-based think-tank Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI).
Currently a senior fellow at the FPRI, Cooke said that ever since Taiwan's accession to the WTO in January 2002, speculation has increased steadily about the possibility of a US-Taiwan FTA being concluded under the Bush administration.
However, that speculation has little grounding in the reality that matters most -- namely the bureaucratic and political process that determines FTA outcomes in Washington, he said.
A sea change took place in May, however, with the visit to Taiwan by US Deputy Trade Representative Karan Bhatia and the resumption of US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks on May 25 and May 26, Cooke said.
"These events cleared a major obstacle from the path and now present Taiwan and the US with their best shot ever at the FTA goal," he continued.
"Prospects for a successful outcome, though, remain in delicate balance: While the merits of a US-Taiwan FTA have never been stronger, the window is closing fast for substantive consideration of an FTA under the Bush administration's Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)," he said.
Cooke said that the starting point for any successful FTA candidacy has to be a strong economic argument based on demonstrable benefits for both signing parties.
Cooke said he sees that the balance sheet of economic gains and losses of a potential US-Taiwan FTA to be "broadly positive for both sides, and the resumption of TIFA talks indicates that the US once again sees Taiwan as contributing to the bilateral trade relationship in terms of its commitment to resolving outstanding trade problems."
In Taiwan's case, he added, three additional considerations were also crucial.
The first consideration was whether Taiwan was espousing free-trade principles and working with the US to further the global trade agenda in Doha, he said.
The second consideration is how broad a degree of domestic support is evident for an FTA with Taiwan's economy. The paradox of Taiwan's position as the indispensable Original Equipment Manufacturing (OEM) partner to the US innovation economy in information technology is a factor, he said.
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