US, Taiwan ink agreement to establish annual economic talks

Taiwan and the US have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish annual economic talks, which Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called a "win-win situation". PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI - Taiwan and the US have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish annual economic talks, which Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called a "win-win situation".

The MOU was signed after an inaugural round of economic talks in Washington on Friday (Nov 20). The talks kicked off the Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue that was announced by the United States in late August.

The US delegation was led by Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach, whose September visit to Taiwan saw Chinese war planes crossing the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait - which normally serves as an official buffer between the island and the mainland - in a series of drills seen to deter the US from boosting its ties with Taiwan. China considers self-ruled Taiwan its own territory with no right to formal relations with other countries.

Taiwan sent Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chyi and a team for the dialogue.

According to a statement from the US Department of State, the dialogue covered topics including "the Clean Network, 5G networks and telecommunications security, supply chains, investment screening, clean infrastructure cooperation, renewable energy, global health, science and technology, and women's economic empowerment, education and entrepreneurship".

Ms Tsai said in a Facebook post that the talks were able to achieve nine accomplishments between both sides, listing the inking of the MOU and establishing a task force for a future economic partnership, among others. She is optimistic about further collaborations with the US, and many in Taiwan also see this as a positive step towards signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US. Her hashtag for the Facebook post reads "#TrueFriendsTrueDevelopment" in Chinese, celebrating the stride forward for Taiwan.

Ms Tsai received backlash from opposition parties in Taiwan when she announced in August that the island would be green-lighting the import of US pork, as well as US beef from cattle aged 30 months and above. The criticism is rooted in food safety concerns as the livestock is fed meat-leaning additive ractopamine.

Three days after Ms Tsai's Aug 28 announcement on the policy change on ractopamine, the US announced that the two sides will launch the dialogue.

Dr Chen Fang-yu, a political analyst who writes for the non-profit research site, US-Taiwan Watch, said: "The US needs an ally to stimulate economic growth and keep China in check, while Taiwan has proven itself an essential economic partner in the high tech, bio-medical and 5G industries."

It may be a while until an FTA with the US actually materialises, so for Taiwan, these talks with the US are a way to gain momentum on a global stage, Dr Chen told The Sunday Times. He added that the forming of a task force in Friday's talks was a highlight.

"This means the talks are being realised on a 'working level,' taking it beyond just discussions between high-level officials," he said.

China's official Xinhua news agency, in a commentary, said on Saturday that Washington is once again playing the Taiwan card against China. This time, the ruse is the so-called Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue held on Friday, it said. "Playing the Taiwan card is toxic to cross-strait peace and stability," it added.

Next month, US Environmental Protection Agency head Andrew Wheeler is likely to visit Taiwan. He will be the third high-ranking US official to visit Taiwan this year, following Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Mr Krach.

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