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Time is right for a Taiwan-US FTA (Taipei Times)


After a delay of 15 years, there are signs that the push for a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Taiwan and the US is inevitable. Five major elements leading to the right circumstances for an FTA — the international situation, exchanges between Taipei and Washington, cross-strait relations, Taiwanese’s civil awareness and consumer rights protections — have fallen into place.

The government should take advantage of these trends and prepare to be flexible. Applying the principle of abiding by international economic and trade rules, Taiwan can show its determination to integrate regionally by opening its market to US pork and beef imports, and thereby relaunch its bid for a Taiwan-US FTA.

Why is a deal inevitable under the circumstances? From the confrontation between China and the US to the COVID-19 outbreak, the international situation has further highlighted the reliability and indispensability of “Made in Taiwan” (MIT) products. From precision wafers to masks, Taiwanese manufacturers have become the most valuable partners in international supply chains.

Taiwan should take advantage of the good reputation of MIT products and leverage its manufacturing strength into regional integration, but the nation is unlikely in the short-term to meet its strategic economic and trade goals — from joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in the Asia-Pacific region to joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia — due to structural obstacles and diplomatic concerns.

As a result, Taiwan must start with mutual ties to arrive at multilateral relations, expand from individual states to include their regions and move outward from the world’s major powers to befriend other nations, which is why a Taiwan-US FTA is the right way to go.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, Capitol Hill and the media are in favor of deepening substantial interactions between Taiwan and the US.

Given these interactions, a Taiwan-US FTA could generate the most economic and trade benefits with the least political side effects.

The day that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) announced the lifting of the ban on US pork imports and the easing of restrictions on US beef imports, US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the National Security Council welcomed the measures Taiwan was taking for the sake of an FTA with the US.

Some heavyweight Republican senators — including Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch; Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee Chairman Pat Roberts; and East Asia, the Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy Subcommittee Chairman Cory Gardner — urged the Office of the US Trade Representative to promptly commence talks toward the signing of an FTA with Taiwan.

Since tensions and heated debates broke out years ago over US meat imports, Taiwanese society has matured and become more self-aware, finally capable of discussing major national policies peacefully and rationally. For example, recent discussions on adopting same-sex marriage and prohibiting nuclear power have reflected Taiwan’s maturing civic society.

As the nation progresses, this maturing self-awareness has led to consumer awareness. Early on, the call to buy locally manufactured products sought to improve Taiwan’s economic and trade development, but buying or importing foreign-made goods, such as smartphones, no longer prompts accusations of hurting local industry or bowing to foreign powers.

A positive, favorable view of consumption is a precondition for maximizing market profit and a purchase should solely be based on people’s personal interests and brand preferences.

The push for an FTA conforms to Taiwan’s overall economic and trade goals. Technical details and complicated affairs should not be allowed to obstruct policy.

Banning all breath alcohol tests because some might not be completely accurate sees society fall victim to excessive caution. Similarly, Taiwan’s economic strategy should not stall because of disagreements over the step-by-step execution of technical details, such as labeling products’ country of origin and a description of their content.

Given Taiwan’s industrial development, the regional economic and trade trends, and the international situation, Taiwan must push for FTA talks with the US no matter who is in power — then the nation will see exponential returns.