President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) must make membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) her primary external goal, US-Taiwan Business Council president Rupert Hammond-Chambers said.
“Taiwan’s over-reliance on China must be addressed and access to the world’s most important multilateral trade initiative could play a key role,” Hammond-Chambers said.
Trade ministers from the 12 nations that have agreed to join the TPP are to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday next week in Auckland, New Zealand, and Taiwan’s potential membership might be discussed at that level for the first time.
Preparations for joining the partnership could act as a catalyst for much-needed domestic trade and economic reforms, Hammond-Chambers wrote in an essay published this week by Washington political newspaper The Hill.
“Membership could afford Taiwan renewed engagement with the TPP member countries, thereby boosting relationships with its Asia-Pacific neighbors,” he wrote.
Hammond-Chambers said that the Taiwan-US relationship could be significantly improved if Tsai were to immediately prioritize tackling the most contentious issue in bilateral ties — imports of US pork containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine.
“Addressing this issue would not only improve the Taiwan-US relationship, it would also boost Taiwan’s bid for consideration as a second round entrant into TPP,” he said.
He said that cross-strait tensions will likely increase because Beijing views that to be in its own best interests.
“With Taiwan a major player in the global technology supply chain, Tsai will need to frame policies that keep domestic businesses competitive and free of Chinese control,” he said.
Tsai should enjoy a honeymoon period in which to tackle some early issues, but she will need strong reciprocal support from the US as well, he said.
“If any coercive behavior from China isn’t met head on, China may see an ambivalent US as an opportunity to define and set the tone for Tsai’s presidency before potentially more assertive US leadership is in place to push back,” he said.
After the original TPP members sign the agreement in Auckland, each nation will begin a domestic ratification process that could take two years to complete.
Only then will second-round nations such as Taiwan, South Korea, and perhaps the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, be able to join.