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August 20, 2017

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U.S. ready to discuss Taiwan free trade pact: business expert

With trade dialogue between Taiwan and the United States seen to be gaining pace, the U.S. is ready to begin the process toward establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), according to Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the Washington-based U.S.-Taiwan Business Council.

While no announcement has yet been made by officials at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) or by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), Taipei and Washington appear committed to increasing the dialogue, said Hammond-Chambers on Tuesday.

After over 12 months with "very little dialogue ... both governments recognize the fact that we need to start talking again," perhaps as soon as April, he said.

And, though the signing of an FTA is "still a long way off," significant progress has been made on critical issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR), he said. But probably not enough progress to see Taiwan taken off the "Special 301" Priority Watch List of countries that fail to adequately protect IPR.

Overcoming the IPR hurdle, along with U.S. concerns over agriculture, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications, is just one part in the lengthy process toward an FTA. Then would come talks on a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA), that would aim to liberalize bilateral trade.

"It's going to take some time to put the issues behind us," he said. "The process will drive the schedule that has an FTA further down the line."

Hammond-Chambers was further encouraged by conversations he and U.S.-Taiwan Business Council chairman William Cohen, had with President Chen and Premier Yu Shyi-kun in November, as well as by the passing of a revised, though watered-down, Copyright Law earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, Hammond-Chambers criticized both the ruling DPP and opposition KMT-PFP alliance for not focusing more on economic issues in the lead up to the presidential election. After all, the future of the economic relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan, as well as the fate of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA, will impact the broader bilateral relationship, including Taiwan's security, he noted.

Describing the oversight as a "travesty," Hammond-Chambers stressed, "Taiwan's economic health and well-being is the very foundation of everything that Taiwan does and would hope to do," and is "the principal driver for Taiwan in the global community," particularly given the mainland's efforts to isolate the island diplomatically.

Still, a change of administration in Taipei in March or in Washington in November may slow the progress toward a U.S.-Taiwan FTA, or even halt it. Particularly if a Democrat, who does not place as much emphasis on trade policy as the current Bush administration, moves into the White House, he said.

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