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Taiwan hopes to ‘gradually’ move towards free trade deal with US

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Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator John Deng told the United States on Wednesday that he hopes the two can “gradually” move towards a free trade agreement, a deal which would be a strong show of support from Washington.

Both sides held the long-delayed talks on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, virtually. These were stalled after former US President Barack Obama left office in 2016 and his successor Donald Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, focused his attention on China, the world’s second-largest economy.

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In Deng’s opening comments, reported by Taiwan’s Cabinet, he said TIFA could make each other’s economies more prosperous and create more job opportunities.

“We hope that through the TIFA platform, the two sides can continue to deepen their relationship and gradually move towards a free trade agreement,” he added.

The top US diplomat in Taiwan, Brent Christensen, told the opening session the resumption of the TIFA talks was an “essential element of our revitalized engagement on trade”.

The Biden administration has moved to reaffirm its strong commitment to the democratically governed island in the face of pressure from Beijing to try and assert its sovereignty.

Taiwan has long angled for a free trade deal with the United States, though any such agreement with Taiwan would likely irritate Beijing, which says the island is Chinese territory and does not have the right to state-to-state relations.

“I am confident that today’s talks will help put the US-Taiwan economic relationship on the right path for more cooperation and more progress in the future,” Christensen added.

The talks were also attended by Assistant US Trade Representative Terry McCartin and Taiwan’s top diplomat in Washington, Hsiao Bi-Khim.

The US Trade Representative’s office said during the talks US officials emphasized the importance of the US-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and “expressed a desire for stronger and more consistent engagement going forward”.

Both sides also expressed support for joint work to enhance critical supply chain security and resilience, it added.

Taiwan is a major producer of semiconductors, a shortage of which have roiled supply chains globally and affected auto makers in particular.

While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with the tech powerhouse fearing objections from China, though Taiwan does have free trade deals with Singapore and New Zealand.

Last year, Taiwan’s government lifted a ban on the import of pork containing a leanness-enhancing additive, ractopamine, removing a major stumbling block to a deal with Washington.

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