US, Taiwan hold talks on strengthening economic ties

Taiwan hopes may lead eventually to a free-trade agreement. PHOTO: ZUJI

WASHINGTON/TAIPEI (REUTERS) - The United States and Taiwan held talks on Friday (Nov 20) on strengthening their economic relationship in the face of increasing pressure on the island from China, which the Taiwanese side hailed as a successful step forward.

The talks, under the auspices of a new Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue, were held virtually and in person, led on the US side by Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, who angered China with a visit to Taipei in September.

Taiwan's Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chyi led a delegation to Washington for the discussions.

A statement from Taiwan's representative office in Washington said the two sides signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an "institutionalised dialogue mechanism".

"Both sides also discussed a wide range of issues including science and technology, supply chain restructuring, 5G networks, investment review, infrastructure and energy, global health security and women's economic empowerment," it said.

The US State Department said the two agreed to negotiate a science and technology agreement to "advance joint understanding and collaboration on a broad range of science and technology topics".

Future talks will help strengthen their economic relationship and "our shared commitment to free markets, entrepreneurship, and freedom," it added.

The dialogue, which Taiwan hopes may lead eventually to a free-trade agreement, is part of increased US engagement with Taipei under the outgoing administration of US President Donald Trump, which has angered Beijing.

China claims democratically run Taiwan as its own territory and reacted with fury when the US Health Secretary Alex Azar visited Taipei in August, followed by Mr Krach in September, sending fighter jets near the island each time.

Mr Azar was the most senior US official to visit Taiwan since Washington switched official diplomatic recognition to the mainland in 1979 and Mr Krach was the most senior State Department official to visit in those four decades.

Speaking in Taipei after Taiwan-US economic talks, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu noted the cross-aisle support for Taiwan's meat decision, as well as October's call by 50 US senators from both parties for President Donald Trump's administration to begin negotiating a trade deal with the island.

In August, Taiwan eased restrictions on imports of U.S. pork and beef, which had been a stumbling block to free trade talks.

"I think bipartisan support on Capitol Hill is still very strong, and I think that kind of support for a Taiwan-US bilateral trade agreement will continue into the new administration," Wu said.

Last month, Frank Jannuzi, a key Biden aide when the president-elect was in Congress, wrote that Washington should prioritise free trade negotiations with Taiwan to encourage others, including Britain, the European Union and Japan, to follow suit.

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