Taiwan and US restart trade talks despite China opposition

The United States and Taiwan on Wednesday restarted trade talks after five years as Washington moves to boost its ties with the island despite China’s objections.

The talks resumed after the two sides reconvened the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, which under former US president Barack Obama’s administration was used to find ways to deepen commercial relations.

The council last met in 2016 before the election of Donald Trump, who switched gears and focused on reaching a mega-deal with China, although relations between Washington and Beijing deteriorated sharply by the end of his turbulent term.

Wednesday’s talks “focused on enhancing the longstanding trade and investment relationship between the United States and Taiwan”, a statement released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.

Held virtually, they were co-led by top trade officials from Washington and Taipei.

Taiwan’s cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng described the talks as “very fruitful” and “a very critical step for Taiwan’s foreign trade” at a press briefing in Taipei. 

The two sides discussed a range of issues including supply chains, trade facilitation and digital trade, as well as environment and labour, he added.

Taipei also urged Washington to expand supplies of Covid-19 vaccines and medicines by sharing technical know-how or authorising manufacturing on a contract basis, said Taiwan’s deputy trade representative Yang Jen-ni, who co-led the talks.

Both sides agreed to set up several working groups for further discussions on issues such as vaccine production, Taipei officials said.   

China has ramped up diplomatic, military and economic pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, while Taipei has accused Beijing of hampering its efforts to secure enough vaccines.

Beijing considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan part of its territory which is to be seized one day, by force if necessary, and rages at any diplomatic attempts to recognise it as an independent nation.

President Joe Biden has pressed ahead with improving ties with Taipei, including by revising convoluted rules that have blocked direct US dealings with Taiwan since Washington switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.

Wednesday’s talks came after US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, a member of Biden’s cabinet, spoke to Taiwanese minister without portfolio John Deng earlier this month in Washington’s highest-level contact yet with the island.

The US government recently donated 2.5 million vaccine doses to Taiwan, a move that sparked rebuke from Beijing which urged Washington to refrain from “engaging in political manipulation and medalling in China’s internal affairs.” 

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