TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan paved the way for an eventual free trade deal with the United States on Friday (Aug 28) by announcing an easing of restrictions on the import of US beef and pork, as the island looks to boost ties with Washington at a time of tensions with China.
Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the United States, its most important supporter on the international stage, but Washington has complained about barriers to access for US pork and beef. Taiwan said that was for health grounds, especially with concerns over mad cow disease and additives.
Speaking at the presidential office in Taipei, President Tsai Ing-wen said her government planned to allow the import of US pork containing ractopamine, an additive that enhances leanness, and allow in US beef older than 30 months old.
"The decision is in line with the country's overall interests and the goals of the nation's strategic development. It's also a decision that could boost Taiwan-US ties," she said.
"If we can take one crucial step forward on the issue of US pork and beef, it will be an important start for Taiwan-US economic cooperation at all fronts."
While it may take a while to reach a bilateral trade agreement with the US, Ms Tsai said she had a positive attitude on the issue.
The US is an extremely important trade partner for Taiwan, and the decision has nothing to do with the upcoming US presidential election, she added.
Taiwan-US trade last year was worth US$85.5 billion (S$116.4 billion), with the US running a US$23.1 billion deficit. Taiwan was the US' 14th biggest export market in 2019.
The US, like most countries, has no official relations with Taiwan, which is claimed by Beijing as sovereign Chinese territory. China has been stepping up its military activities near Taiwan.
Export-dependent, tech powerhouse Taiwan has trade pacts already with Singapore and New Zealand, and has been pushing for an investment agreement with the European Union.