Taiwan may have to make a “down payment” to gain entry to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, a Washington conference was told on Wednesday.
It may need to solve some “longstanding disputes” with the US and show other partners it can do some politically very difficult things, US Chamber of Commerce vice president for Asia Tami Overby said.
“Until the import restrictions are eased and Taiwan shows some flexibility for ractopamine in pork products consistent with international standards, it’s going to be hard to move forward and start the negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement,” Overby said.
Overby added that this “trade impediment” would also have a bearing on how negotiators viewed Taiwan’s readiness to join regional economic architectures.
“We certainly understand Taiwan’s keen interest in joining TPP,” she told the Heritage Foundation conference titled “Taiwan’s Economic Place in the Pacific.”
Overby said Taiwan would be welcomed into the TPP if it could meet the “high standards for liberalization and is able to receive unanimous support from the existing members.”
“The US may require a down payment,” Overby said.
There were some longstanding “irritants” in the trade relationship, she said, and the US wanted to make sure that Taiwan is serious.
Asked how big the pork issue was for Taiwan’s possible entry into the TPP, Overby said that economically it was not a big issue, but that politically it was very big.
“It matters,” Center for Strategic and International Studies senior adviser Scott Miller said.
He said that all 100 members of the US Senate represented farmers and that gave the issue importance.
Taiwan’s Association of Foreign Relations secretary-general Huang Kwei-Bo (黃奎博) said that while Taiwan was very appreciative of the US government’s good will and was trying very hard to liberalize its economy in order to meet the standards of the TPP, it had to be remembered that Taiwan has a unique domestic context.
It would take a “great deal” of political determination for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to push Taiwan toward successful participation in the TPP, he said.
“I really doubt that Taiwan is ready for the TPP,” Huang said.
The majority of people in Taiwan said “yes” they wanted the TPP, but in practice many industries and sectors are far from reaching acceptable positions.
At the same time, China presents both an economic opportunity and a national security threat to Taiwan, and the big question posed by that situation would “always hover” above the nation, he said.
He said some Taiwanese are anxious about what sort of “special arrangements” have been reached in negotiations with China.
“Internally, Taiwan is divided not only politically, but economically,” Huang said. “We have different perceptions and attitudes about future economic strategies in the Asia-Pacific [region].”
Taiwan is also entering the election season where it would have to pay more attention to politics than economics.
It is possible that political struggles, controversies, arguments and debates would cause Taiwan to lose momentum to push forward economically, Huang said
The conference was moderated by Heritage Asian Studies Center director Walter Lohman and by University of Richmond associate dean Vincent Wang, who represented joint sponsor the Taiwan Benevolent Association of America.
Other panelists included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Policy Planning Director-General Jieh Wen-chieh (介文汲) and National Taiwan University professor Lin Chien-fu (林建甫).
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