New Taiwan-US trade negotiations could move more quickly than broader talks with 12 Indo-Pacific nations, given strong interest in Taipei and Washington to deepen economic ties, Deputy US Trade Representative Sarah Bianchi said on Thursday.
There are parallels between the newly launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the “Taiwan-US Initiative on 21st-century Trade,” Bianchi told Reuters in an interview, but the latter initiative is aimed at increasing links with Taiwan on specific economic issues.
“I think we are eager to get going with Taiwan and to scope out our negotiating mandate there and ... a range of issues from small-medium enterprises to digital trade to labor, and we look forward to getting going as quickly as possible,” Bianchi said.
Asked if the initiative could bear fruit sooner than the IPEF talks, she said: “Potentially yes, it could.”
China on Thursday said it “firmly opposes” the talks, with Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng (高峰) telling Washington to “prudently handle trade and economic ties with Taiwan to avoid sending a wrong message to Taiwan separatists.”
Asked about the Chinese response, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “I can’t speak to the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China’s] reaction.”
“What I can say is that everything we do in the context of our unofficial relationship with Taiwan is done pursuant to our longstanding ‘one China’ policy, which of course is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three US-China joint communiques and the ‘six assurances’ as well,” Price said in Washington.
As for the talks themselves, he said the US intends to “move quickly to develop a road map for possible negotiations,” followed by in-person meetings in Washington.
Taiwan was excluded from the 14-nation IPEF, launched last week by US President Joe Biden, but the separate bilateral framework was announced on Wednesday.
The IPEF, which seeks to return an economic pillar to US engagement in the region, is to include Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia and other countries in the region, but not China.
Bianchi said the IPEF would also get started right away, with plans for discussions, including ministerial-level meetings in the coming months to organize topics for the talks and to begin proposing texts for an agreement by the end of the summer.
The IPEF talks would allow member countries to choose among the key “pillars” in which they are to participate, including digital trade rules, supply chain resiliency and trade facilitation, infrastructure development, and strong labor rights and environmental standards.
Participation in all pillars is not required, and initial meetings are to focus on defining which ones nations will choose, Bianchi said.
Countries that choose only one or two can still have meaningful engagement with the US and other IPEF members, she said.
Neither the IPEF nor the Taiwan talks would include the tariff reductions and enhanced market access offered by traditional free-trade agreements.
The IPEF is meant to be a “21st-century agreement to really address 21st-century problems,” including barriers to digital trade, such as data localization requirements or onerous regulations that make it difficult for companies to operate in some countries, Bianchi said, adding that fixing these problems would also enhance market access.
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