Taiwan still waiting to join trans-Pacific trade pact

TAIPEI • Trade-dependent Taiwan has made relatively good progress towards joining the revamped version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it is awaiting clearer rules on membership, the island's chief trade negotiator said yesterday.

While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organisation, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with Taipei, fearing objections from China which claims the democratic island as its own territory. Taiwan has sought greater access to multilateral deals.

Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies formed the world's largest free-trade bloc on Sunday: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), of which China is a member country. The bloc does not include Taiwan or the US.

Tech-powerhouse Taiwan has instead been angling to join the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), signed in 2018, again without the US.

Taiwan's Minister Without Portfolio John Deng, who leads trade talks, told reporters that the island had expressed willingness to join the CPTPP. It is waiting for the grouping to make clearer rules about membership application.

Mr Deng said economies "that have made relatively good progress (in applying for membership) include Britain, Taiwan and Thailand" and that "Taiwan's hard work has been welcomed by many".

The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it.

It was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and links Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Taiwan has played down the impact of RCEP on its economy, saying that 70 per cent of its exports - mostly electronic products - to RCEP members are tariff-free.

Taiwan hopes eventually to sign a free trade deal with the US, its main arms seller and most important international backer. The two will hold high-level economic talks at the end of this week.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2020, with the headline 'Taiwan still waiting to join trans-Pacific trade pact'. Print Edition | Subscribe