The United States and Taiwan held their first trade talks since 2016 and agreed to strengthen trade ties and work together to address a number of issues, including worker’s rights and the environment.
On June 30, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Terry McCartin and Taiwan’s Deputy Trade Representative Jen-ni Yang led discussions at the 11th meeting of the U.S.-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council. During the meeting, U.S. officials “emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and expressed a desire for stronger and more consistent engagement going forward.” In addition, according to a USTR readout, the two sides agreed:
- To address “outstanding trade concerns” including market access for U.S. beef and pork products, copyright protection, digital privacy, financial services, investment, and regulatory transparency;
- To form a new Labor Working Group under the TIFA to address forced labor in the global supply chain;
- To “convene meetings of several TIFA working groups, including the Agriculture Working Group, the Intellectual Property Working Group, the Technical Barriers to Trade Working Group and the Investment Working Group, as well as other working-level meetings as necessary.”
Taiwan’s Executive Yuan, the executive branch of the Taiwanese government, reported that the two sides agreed that a solid foundation was set for further deepening bilateral trade relations, and discussed intellectual property rights, supply chains, medical equipment, digital trade, trade facilitation, finance, agriculture, environment, labor rights, and other international cooperation. Taiwan also reportedly asked the U.S. to simplify import and export procedures for vaccines and other medical supplies. Vaccine shortages have been an issue in Taiwan, especially after the COVID outbreak in May. On June 19, the United States shipped 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan.
The TIFA Council meeting came several weeks after a virtual meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Taiwan Minister-without-Portfolio John Deng. During the virtual meeting, Tai “emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Taiwan trade and investment relationship” and the “continued interest in working together with Taiwan on issues of common concern in multilateral organizations.” During the meeting, the two sides also agreed to host the TIFA Council meeting.
The bilateral TIFA Council was created in 1994 as one of the key mechanisms for trade and investment dialogues between the two sides. Former President Trump declined to hold a TIFA Council meeting, and Trump’s U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer criticized Taiwan’s trade barriers on U.S. goods, including beef and pork products. Taiwan first imposed restrictions on U.S. beef in 2003 after the outbreak of mad-cow disease in the United States. Perhaps as a gesture of good faith, last August Taiwan announced steps to open market access to U.S. meat products, potentially paving the way for trade talks with the United States.
Prior to the TIFA Council meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stated during a press conference that “China has all along opposed any U.S. attempt to elevate relations in essence or engage in official interactions with Taiwan in any form.” In response, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a briefing that the United States “will continue to strengthen our relationship across all areas — all the areas we cooperate, including on economic issues” and “committed to the importance of the U.S.-Taiwan trade and investment relationships.”
The Biden administration is likely to feel pressure from Congress to pursue some sort of trade engagement with Taiwan. On June 29, a bipartisan group of 42 Senators sent U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai a letter noting that they “were gratified to see reports that you held a virtual meeting with Taiwan's top trade official, John Deng, on June 9, 2021 and committed to reconvene TIFA talks in the coming weeks,” and requesting that Tai “prioritize these talks and take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan.”