Taiwan’s intent to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been welcomed by the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR).
“We welcome Taiwan’s interest to join the TPP,” a USTR spokeswoman said in an e-mail on Wednesday to the Taipei Times, in response to enquiries regarding Washington’s position on the issue.
The spokeswoman for the USTR, which is currently negotiating with 11 other countries to form the TPP, declined to give her name.
The comment represents the most positive public statement the US has made about Taiwan’s membership.
Previous answers followed the line that all APEC members are eligible for TPP membership if they are able to meet the high standards that are being negotiated in the free-trade agreement.
The deadline set by the US to reach the deal creating the trade bloc was postponed to next month after the 12 nations failed to resolve outstanding issues in the latest round of talks in Singapore earlier this month.
Ahead of the looming deadline, the US is “focused on concluding the agreement among the current 12 TPP partners,” the spokeswoman said.
“However, we are also developing the TPP as a potential platform to expand to include other regional economies,” the spokeswoman added.
If an economy is interested in joining the bloc, it must demonstrate readiness to adopt the group’s high standards and commit to its comprehensive nature, while any decision to accept new partners requires the consensus of all existing partners, the spokeswoman said.
Bilateral negotiations with the US have been back on track since March this year after Taiwan eased a ban on US beef imports containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine, ending a six-year hiatus in talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) platform.
During the March negotiations, the US and Taiwan set up two working groups to deal with investment-related issues and technical barriers to trade.
The US continues to encourage Taiwan to fully utilize the TIFA process through the two working groups to “build confidence in its trade relationship with the United States and move its economy in the direction of becoming eligible for entry into the TPP,” the spokeswoman said.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Bureau of Foreign Trade Director Chang Chun-fu (張俊福) said one reason the US has not made explicit its position on the issue is that it is “not comfortable” with Taiwan’s trade regime.
Chang said it was a “salient fact” that the US believes Taiwan’s removal of the ban on beef containing a permissible level of ractopamine residue is inconsistent with the remaining ban on pork with ractopamine.
He added that he believed the US therefore does not consider that Taiwan’s trade regime meets international standards.
“We do see how our [Taiwan’s] intransigence on the pork issue bears on US’ support for our bid for TPP inclusion,” he said.
The Bureau has been tasked with handling the logistics of the International Economic and Trade Strategic Task Force headed by Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), which is to have oversight of the nation’s participation in the TPP, as well as the China-led establishment of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The government is now reviewing domestic rules and regulations that conflict with what might be agreed in the TPP agreement, Chang said.