US-Taiwan Trade Talks Could Outpace Indo-Pacific Effort: USTR Official

US-Taiwan Trade Talks Could Outpace Indo-Pacific Effort: USTR Official
Flags of Taiwan and the United States are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, on March 27, 2018. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

WASHINGTON—New U.S. trade negotiations with Taiwan could move more quickly than broader talks with 12 Indo-Pacific countries given strong interest in Taipei and Washington in deepening economic ties, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Sarah Bianchi said on Thursday.

There are parallels between the newly launched Indo-Pacific Economic Framework talks and the Taiwan talks, Bianchi told Reuters in an interview, but the latter initiative is aimed at increasing links with Taiwan on specific economic issues.

"I think we are eager to get going with Taiwan and to scope out our negotiating mandate there and ... a range of issues from small-medium enterprises to digital trade to labor and we look forward to getting going as quickly as possible," Bianchi said.

Asked if the Taiwan initiative could bear fruit sooner than the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) talks, she said: "Potentially yes, it could."

The self-ruled island was excluded from the 14-country IPEF initiative launched last week by President Joe Biden. However, USTR announced separate, bilateral trade talks with Taiwan on Wednesday.

IPEF, which seeks to return an economic pillar to U.S. engagement in the region, will include Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and other countries in the region, but not China.

Bianchi said IPEF would also get started right away, with plans for discussions, including ministerial-level meetings in coming months to organize the topics for the talks and to begin proposing texts for an agreement by the end of the summer.

Choosing Pillars

The IPEF talks will allow member countries to choose among the key "pillars" in which they will participate, including digital trade rules, supply chain resiliency and trade facilitation, infrastructure development and strong labor rights and environmental standards.

But participation in all pillars is not required, and initial meetings will focus on defining which ones countries will choose, Bianchi said. Countries that choose only one or two can still have meaningful engagement with the United States and other IPEF members, she said.

Neither the IPEF nor the Taiwan talks will include the tariff reductions and enhanced market access offered by traditional free trade agreements.

Bianchi said IPEF is meant to be a "21st century agreement to really address 21st century problems," including barriers to digital trade such as data localization requirements or onerous regulations that make it difficult for companies to operate in some countries. Fixing these problems will also enhance market access, she said.

By David Lawder
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