The Ministry of Economic Affairs yesterday said that it is “enthusiastic and expectant” at the prospect of resumed Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks with the US, after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said that the US could resume the TIFA talks with Taiwan that have not been held since 2016.
During a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the US Department of State’s annual budget request, Blinken was asked about the administration’s position on a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan.
“I’d have to refer you to Katherine Tai [戴琪], the US trade representative, but I know we are engaged in conversations with Taiwan, or soon will be, on some kind of framework agreement, and those conversations should be starting,” Blinken said.
Asked about Blinken’s comment, a spokesperson for the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) office said: “The United States believes it is important to continue strengthening our bilateral trade relationship with Taiwan, [but] we have no meetings to announce at this time.”
“We are working to engage in discussions with USTR, which will hopefully lead to progress in our bilateral trade relationship,” a spokesman for Taiwan’s representative office in Washington said.
In Taipei, Bureau of Foreign Trade Deputy Director-General Liu Chih-hung (劉志宏) yesterday said that the Ministry of Economic Affairs was excited to hear the encouraging news from Blinken.
“It is now up to the Office of Trade Negotiation to work out the details,” Liu said, adding that he has no further information such as timetables, subjects under discussion or other expectations, as the Office of Trade Negotiation is still working out the plan with its US counterpart.
The ministry is always working to improve the trade relationship between the US and Taiwan, Liu said.
“It is our hope that the TIFA talks can resume quickly, lead to closer negotiations on common trade topics and eventually lead to the signing of a bilateral trade agreement between the US and Taiwan,” he said.
Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the US, said that Blinken’s comment was a signal Washington is likely to move forward with the resumption of TIFA talks with Taiwan, but that the administration has probably not made a decision on whether to take the much larger step of pursuing a bilateral trade agreement.
In a meeting with a visiting US delegation in April, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged both sides to resume the TIFA talks in the hope of “further strengthening our bilateral economic partnership.”
Tsai is keen to show some progress on trade talks with the US ahead of a planned August referendum that could reverse her January decision to lift the restrictions on imports of US pork and beef, Glaser said.
China would likely criticize a resumption of talks out of concern that they could eventually lead to a free-trade agreement and embolden others, such as the UK, to launch trade negotiations with Taiwan, she said.
First held in 1995, the TIFA are high-level talks aimed at promoting bilateral trade and resolving trade disputes. The talks stalled when former US president Barack Obama left office in 2016.
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