The United States would support Taiwan’s entry into an ambitious proposed trans-Pacific trade pact but the island needs first to move away from protectionism, a US official said Thursday.
President Ma Ying-jeou has voiced interest in the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Taiwan’s involvement in international agreements is regularly complicated because China claims the self-governing island as its own.
Raymond Burghardt, chair of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy in the absence of diplomatic relations, said that Washington would oppose attempts to exclude Taiwan from the pact on political grounds.
“For the US it would be fine from a political point of view,” Burghardt told a conference at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
“But whether all the other parties would think that it was a good idea to let Taiwan into the TPP negotiations is a legitimate question,” he said.
Ma has set a goal of entering the pact within a decade and said that Taiwan needed first to set up free trade areas on the island. Taiwan also has a long-running dispute with the United States on beef imports, which the island restricts due to health fears.
“As Ma was startlingly frank in acknowledging in his remarks, Taiwan has acquired some really serious protectionist habits and gotten used to a protectionist approach to trade. And that’s going to be hard to give up,” Burghardt said.
All nations involved must agree to admit new members in the talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which advocates hope will serve as the basis for a sweeping trade agreement covering the dynamic Pacific Rim.
The United States has been negotiating on the pact with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada and Mexico were recently admitted to talks and Japan is considering taking part.
China frequently warns nations against support for Taiwan but it relaxed its opposition to the island entering economic deals with third parties after the Beijing-friendly Ma reached a landmark trade agreement with the mainland in 2010.