Taiwan realistic about US trade deal, but says one will happen eventually

Taiwan has long sought a bilateral trade deal with the United States. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan is under no illusions it can quickly sign a long-hoped-for free trade deal with the United States but feels when the time is right "success will flow naturally", the island's chief trade negotiator said on Friday (Jan 22).

Taiwan has long sought a bilateral trade deal with the United States, the Chinese-claimed island's most important international backer and supplier of arms.

Last year, the government lifted a ban on the import of pork containing a leanness-enhancing additive, ractopamine, removing a major stumbling block to an agreement with Washington.

But US President Joe Biden has only just assumed office, and his nominee for treasury secretary, Dr Janet Yellen, told lawmakers this week they would prioritise domestic investment in workers and infrastructure before embarking on any new free trade agreements.

Minister without Portfolio John Deng, who leads trade talks, told Reuters that Taiwan's government well knew that for the US to sign free trade agreements with anyone was a major issue, especially with a new government in office.

"We absolutely understand US politics and we do not have any unrealistic fantasies," he said, speaking in his office near the presidential office. "The new government has its priorities and of course we need to understand that."

But Mr Deng said he was confident a deal would happen eventually, pointing to the pork decision and support for an agreement among US lawmakers.

"We have always thought that this a matter of 'when conditions are right, success will flow naturally'."

Trade-dependent Taiwan is also angling to join the revamped version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), signed in 2018, without the US.

"This is a very high-priority project for us. But we also understand this involves lots of other countries, 11 of them, so we're not willing to set a timetable or a target," Mr Deng said.

While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with the tech-powerhouse, fearing objections from China, though Taiwan does have free trade deals with Singapore and New Zealand.

President Tsai Ing-wen told Britain's newly appointed de facto ambassador in Taipei this week she hoped they could begin talks on a free trade or bilateral investment agreement.

Britain has been looking for such deals since leaving the European Union.

"There have been no negotiations but the British side knows Taiwan's interest," Mr Deng said, when asked about the chances of a deal with Britain.

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