The relative importance of Taiwan as a US trading partner has declined over the past 20 years, a new report by the US Congressional Research Service says.
This is especially true, it says, when compared with US trade with China.
The report, an overview of policy issues in US-Taiwan relations, says that “many observers” saw Taipei’s restriction on US beef as a major obstacle.
More than any other issue, beef is responsible for the freezing of talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA), the forum used by Taiwan and the US to discuss economic issues.
TIFA talks have not been held since 2007.
Total US trade with Taiwan last year was US$67.2 billion, making Taiwan the 10th-largest US trading partner — down from sixth position in 1989.
“US trade with Taiwan has been relatively stagnant over the past 10 years,” the report says.
On the positive side, Taiwan has “greatly improved” its protection of intellectual property rights, although a number of problems remain, including “infringement of copyrighted material on the Internet,” it adds.
“The US has raised concerns over Taiwan’s barriers on certain agricultural products such as rice, pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Taiwan’s use of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures to block US beef sales to Taiwan are of particular concern to US officials,” the report says.
US officials charge that a bilateral protocol that provided for expanded market access for US beef and beef products in Taiwan has been “significantly undermined” by action taken by the Legislative Yuan, the report says.
Written by Shirley Kan, a specialist in Asian security affairs, and Wayne Morrison, a specialist in Asian trade and finance, the report concludes that both Washington and Taipei have put more efforts into relations with Beijing than they have with each other.
It predicts that further into President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) second term Beijing could increase pressure on Taiwan “in preparing for, if not pressing for, political and military negotiations.”
The report says that despite the pronouncements of “one China” by leaders in Taipei and Beijing and closer cross-strait ties, Taiwan’s people retain a strong Taiwan-centric identity.
“Taiwan’s people pragmatically have pursued prosperity, security and their democratic way of life and self-governance,” the report says.
It adds that Ma has said he places priority on the relationship with the US, but some observers say Taiwan needs to restore trust lost in the relationship and “reciprocate US efforts to strengthen it.”
Although Ma is chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the report says, it has been a challenge for him to lead his administration and party “to resolve the dispute over US beef.”