During his visit to Taiwan from Sept. 17 to 19, US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach participated in, but did not preside over, high-level Taiwan-US economic and trade talks. Some media claimed that this meant that the negotiations had “failed.”
However, this conclusion is unfair, as the negotiations are ongoing. Any bilateral or multilateral dialogue has models and protocols to follow. The vice-ministerial or even ministerial level of negotiation takes place only after several consultations.
Krach is indeed the highest-level official from the US to visit since the severance of diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979, but many issues are still in the communication and consultation stage before they can be finalized in a Taiwan-US trade agreement, so it makes no sense to conclude that “the high-level Taiwan-US economic and trade dialogue had failed.”
It is advantageous for undersecretary-level officials to exchange views with Taiwan about the format and schedule of a trade agreement, so that the Executive Yuan’s Office of Trade Negotiation and the Office of the United States Trade Representative have a better chance of building a consensus.
Krach’s visit was not only a milestone in the development of high-level economic and trade dialogue, but also shows that Washington attaches great importance to a bilateral trade agreement or a free-trade deal.
The US is an important ally for Taiwan, and any deepening of bilateral relations would help the nation.
For example, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft this month met with Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York Director-General James Lee (李光章) for a luncheon to discuss the advocacy of Taiwan’s return to the UN — an important, historical achievement.
However, Taiwan cannot indulge itself in euphoria. With the US gradually withdrawing from multilateral organizations, leaving China to have a greater say in them, the help it can provide on the issue of Taiwan’s international participation is limited.
Striving for substantial returns and shifting the focus from the US to the world is the primary goal of Taiwan-US cooperation. Taiwan should firstly deepen its share of the supply chain for advanced industries in the nation and the US, and expand opportunities in the global market.
With global supply chains being reshuffled and multilateral trade agreements being struck, a Taiwan-US trade agreement would be a historic opportunity for Taiwan to expand its international market and achieve industrial upgrade.
Moreover, Taiwan should enhance its national defense capabilities. Apart from striving for technology transfer to establish an autonomous defense industry, Taipei should also seek armaments so that the nation can play a more important role in regional peace and stability.
Just as a memorandum of understanding on medical and health cooperation was signed last month by Taiwan and the US, cooperation over people’s livelihoods, public health and medical care is also a path for Taiwan’s industrial development and meaningful international participation.
If Taiwan agrees that deepening cooperation with the US is an important strategy, it must be recognized that to achieve specific goals, Taiwanese have to live with trade-offs. Lifting the ban on imports of US pork containing ractopamine only paves the way for Taiwan-US trade negotiations.
Taiwanese should support the government in advancing follow-up negotiations.
Hong Chi-chang is chairman of the Taiwan Economy and Industry Association.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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