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Closer US-Taiwan trade ties next priority: AIT head

Establishing deeper and closer bilateral trade ties between the United States and Taiwan will be the next key focus for the two sides, the new de facto U.S. ambassador to Taipei Christopher Marut said yesterday.

Speaking at his first press briefing since assuming his post, the new director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) said that both the U.S. and Taiwan have a lot of work to do with regard to trade, given that bilateral talks under the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) have not been held since 2007.

He said that the priority right now for Washington and Taipei is to rebuild mutual trust. Marut added that fortunately there have been positive measures adopted by both sides that can be helpful in advancing economic dialogue.

The director pointed out that Taiwan recently decided to allow imports of U.S. beef containing a maximum residue level of the leanness-enchasing drug ractopamine.

Marut also pointed out that Washington dispatched several higher-ranking officials to Taiwan, including Atul Keshap, a senior U.S. official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

The AIT chief, however, chose not to give a timetable on when the TIFA talks will resume, saying only that a delegation comprising officials from different U.S. agencies will visit Taiwan later this month to further trade relations.

Taiwan's TPP Bid 'Premature'

Meanwhile, asked to comment on Taiwan's possible admission into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral free trade agreement to liberalize economies in the region, the AIT head said it is “premature” to even begin the discussion.

“The TPP is a very ambitious initiative that aims to benefit the economies in the Asian Pacific region and the addition of new members to the TPP is based on the consensus of the current members,” Marut said.

He said that according to his understanding, Taiwan's ruling administration has set a goal to join the TPP within eight years, a positive effort indicating that the government knows it has work to do to prepare itself for a possible entry into the trade agreement.

But it is still too early to tell when or if Taiwan can join the TPP.

“From the U.S. point of view, the priority for Taiwan now is to rebuild confidence in our bilateral trade relationships,” he added.

VWP Benefits Both Sides

The new AIT director, who arrived in Taipei on Sept. 13 to succeed William Stanton, said he is looking forward to deepening and diversifying bilateral exchanges by building upon the success of his predecessors.

With regard to Taiwan's inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which was announced Tuesday, Marut said it is a positive development for both Taipei and Washington as it will largely boost two-way trade and travel.

“This is a new exciting move forward in our relationship,” he said, adding that it is also a testament to the achievement of the Taiwanese people.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday the inclusion of Taiwan into the VWP, making Taiwan the 37th country to join the program, which will allow R.O.C. passport holders to travel to the U.S., for tourism or business, and stay for up to 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.

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 Human traffickers could be drawn to Taiwan passports over VWP: officials 
Christopher J. Marut speaks in his first press conference in Taiwan as the director of the American Institute in Taiwan in the American Cultural Center in Taipei, yesterday. In response to media questions on the recent Diaoyutai dispute, Marut said the U.S. called on all parties involved to solve the issue through peaceful dialogues. (CNA)

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