Taiwan pushes limits of US trade deal

Taipei Times

Taiwan’s top trade negotiator on Friday signaled a desire to expand Taipei’s initial agreement with Washington into one that more closely resembles a free-trade deal.

Taiwanese trade officials are talking with their US counterparts about broadening the scope of an arrangement reached earlier this year, Minister Without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中), who heads the Executive Yuan’s Office of Trade Negotiations, said in an interview in Taipei.

“One goal is to expand the coverage: More topics like agriculture, labor. We are willing to talk whatever international trade regime needs to address,” Deng told Bloomberg News. “Second is the market access issue, that is tariffs. We hope that one day the US government is ready for tariff talk.”

There is no timetable for the next round of talks, he said.

Known formally as the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade, the framework covers issues such as regulatory practices, customs and corruption, but it excludes anything about tariff reductions, traditionally called “market access” — thorny issues that are difficult to resolve, given tensions between the US and China.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has opposed negotiating traditional free-trade deals, due in part to opposition to past deals in the US Congress and a concern that such pacts in the past hurt US workers by incentivizing manufacturers to move overseas for cheaper labor.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has long sought a free-trade agreement with Washington.

Along with being a major economic coup for Taipei, a broader agreement more closely resembling a free-trade deal would be a political one, too, further solidifying US support.

Taiwan has been encouraged by strong signals of support from US lawmakers, Deng said.

He pointed to a show of unanimous approval in July of the trade initiative with Taiwan by a US Senate that is often been reluctant to ratify trade deals.

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