Pirated goods scuttle trade talks


Sun, Oct 12, 2003 - Page 2

Presidential economic advisor Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) was given a stern rebuff by the US government over Taiwan's failure to eliminate rampant piracy of intellectual property during a meeting in Washington, at which he tried to convince the Bush administration to resume discussions toward a free-trade agreement (FTA).

Siew was told "there will be no movement on an FTA" until Taiwan cleans up the piracy of videos, software and other electronic products that has poisoned bilateral economic relations, according to the president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, Rupert Hammond-Chambers.

The message was delivered by Assistant US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler during a meeting with Siew on Wednesday, Hammond-Chambers told reporters on Friday after a council luncheon where Siew made a speech.

Siew came to Washington with expectations of breaking a nearly year-long logjam over the piracy issue and trying to revive efforts to begin work on a trade agreement. Some key congressmen and other supporters of Taiwan had pushed for FTA negotiations a few years ago, but the momentum was lost in recent years due to disputes over the piracy issue, as well as Taiwan's rice imports and other issues regarding telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

Washington is "frustrated," said Hammond-Chambers, whose organization aims at fostering business relations between Taiwan and US firms.

"The US will hold off until there is a serious effort" on Taiwan's part to eliminate piracy, he said.

He complained that Taiwanese officials now see meetings with US officials as merely "photo opportunities, not as opportunities to discuss serious US-Taiwan issues," and said this attitude must change.

Observers in Washington, however, doubt whether President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) administration will be able to do anything on the issue until at least after the next presidential election, in view of the political sensitivities involved in closing the pirate factories, which are located in the DPP's political powerbase in the south. With the election prospects now tight, one observer said, the shutdowns "would require too much political capital to be expended."

US-Taiwan communications on piracy and other trade issues were suspended after representatives of the powerful US motion picture, recording and other media industries complained to the White House. An interagency review sided with these industries and called an indefinite hold on contacts. The Siew-Cutler meeting shows that the hold will not be lifted any time soon.

In his address to the business council, Siew drew a parallel between Taiwan's desire for FTA talks now and the situation leading up to Taiwan's admission to the WTO.

"When we first consulted with people in the US on prospects for our WTO accession, we were met with the objection that `there were too many bilateral irritants' between us at the time to make accession feasible. But the US and Taiwan successfully used the many years of negotiation on WTO accession to resolve issues and move the bilateral trade relationship forward," he said.

"We can do so again. Major policy instruments like WTO membership and the trade agreement can be used effectively to solve problems," he said.

However, William Cohen, the business council's chairman and former secretary of defense, wondered if such arguments would wash.

"It's conceivable," he told the Taipei Times after the luncheon, "But time is short right now. There are so many countries in line, so to speak, that are anxious to get free-trade agreements [with the US], and to the extent that these [US-Taiwan] issues are seen as obstacles, it makes it more difficult."

Cohen was referring to the wealth of new FTAs the Bush administration has entered into and is negotiating in the wake of a law passed last year that gives him so-called "Trade Promotion Authority," or fast-track authority, to negotiate trade agreements with a reduced congressional role in the process.

Administration officials have said that those negotiations currently in the queue must be finished first before others such as one with Taiwan are begun.