The collapse of the Doha Round of global trade liberalization talks in Geneva on Monday could enhance Taiwan's slim chances of initiating negotiations toward a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US this year, Deputy Economic Affairs Minister Steve Chen (
Chen said that with the Doha talks ended, the US would have more resources available to devote to such tasks as starting FTA negotiations with Taiwan, which President Chen Shui-bian (
The economics ministry official, who is also responsible for Taiwan's role in the Doha talks, made his comments in an interview with the Taipei Times after he spoke at a seminar on prospects for a US-Taiwan FTA at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank.
The next six months would be crucial to determining whether an FTA is possible because during that interval "both countries are in a better position to discuss this issue," Chen said.
"The Doha round is on hold, and certainly the US will have more resources to explore this issue more carefully, and we feel that this is a good opportunity [to discuss the issue]," he said. "At this moment, we feel that both countries can take this opportunity to carefully examine the benefits [of an FTA], and seek to take advantage of this golden opportunity to initiate this process," he said.
Chen's comments echoed those of other observers in Washington. With the Doha failure in Geneva, "there will be a lot of [US] trade negotiators around with nothing to do," one of Taiwan's Washington lobbyists in the audience said.
In his address, Chen, who was Taiwan's representative to the WTO in the 1990s, made a strong case for an FTA that he said would benefit both sides economically, boosting US exports to Taiwan by US$6.4 billion, and yielding other gains.
He said the next six months would be a "window of opportunity" for Taiwan to convince US officials to begin FTA talks.
However, it was unclear whether any talks could be successful before next June, when a US trade law that has made a number of FTAs possible is set to expire. Speakers on the AEI platform with Chen predicted that it would be an uphill battle to get the Trade Promotion Authority -- or "fast track" law -- extended.
"There are so many countries that are queuing up for an FTA with the United States," Chen said. "To be on the top of the waiting list we have to have strong support from both the US business community and the US Congress, and eventually, I do believe, the US government will ask the business community whether they see opportunities for an FTA with Taiwan," Chen said.
For the rest of the year, he said, Taiwan would encourage Taiwanese companies to launch a campaign to get in touch with their US partners to jointly support an FTA, and would set up a coalition through which Taiwan could build up support from US businesses.
"That will be the major work that we will undertake in the next six months," Chen said.
Taiwan will also encourage academics and experts from both countries to move the FTA along. Such efforts would include the American Enterprise Institute and the US-Taiwan Business Council, he said.
Regarding efforts to convince the Bush administration, Chen said he would follow up on the results of last May's Trade and Investment Framework Agreement meeting between Taiwan officials and deputy US trade representative Karan Bhatia, "and we will approach agencies of the US government in the hope that we can convince the US government that it is the right time to have an FTA."