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USTR welcomes interest in TPP membership

WASHINGTON--The office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on Friday welcomed Taiwan's interest in joining a trans-Pacific free trade bloc but said the bloc's prospective members are currently focused on the latest round of negotiations.

Though praising President Ma Ying-jeou's steps to liberalize Taiwan's market, a USTR official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that the bloc was open to economies ready to meet high standards of liberalization, and that new members needed unanimous support from established members.

At present, TPP members are focusing on negotiations to try to seal an agreement on the 12-nation bloc, the official said.

The United States is said to be frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, which are entering their fifth year, after TPP countries initially aimed to conclude a deal last year.

Talks on April 9 between the U.S. and Japan failed to bridge gaps on such sensitive issues as farm goods and autos.

The USTR official was non-committal when asked if an ongoing dispute in Taiwan over a trade-in-services agreement with China would affect the U.S. view of Taiwan's determination to liberalize its market.

The USTR supports Taiwan's vibrant democracy and hopes the issue — a decision only Taiwanese people can make — can be discussed in a peaceful and civilized way, the official said.

Asked if Taiwan would need to lift its ban on imports of U.S. pork containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine if it wanted to enter the TPP, the official downplayed the link but defended U.S. demands for Taiwan to open its pork market.

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