Taiwan urged to address trade issues with U.S. in push for TPP bid

Kurt Tong, visiting principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, said Wednesday that Taiwan needs to deal with outstanding trade issues with the United States to enhance its chances of entering the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade bloc.

"The U.S. welcomes Taiwan's interest in this initiative" and looks forward to having conversations with Taiwan on the issue in the future, Tong said in response to questions on Taiwan's TPP bid at a news conference in Taipei.

In offering suggestions for Taiwan to boost its chances of entering the TPP, he urged Taiwan to put efforts into resolving bilateral trade issues that have already been under discussion through the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) process.

"That would make Taiwan a more attractive partner from the U.S. perspective," he told reporters.

Asked about trade relations between the two countries, he said that there are a number of trade issues between Taiwan and the U.S. that the two sides discuss under the TIFA and the channels between the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and Taiwan's representative office in Washington.

"Pork is certainly one of the important issues in that dialogue," said Tong, who was on the final day of a three-day visit to Taiwan, in response to reporters' questions.

The U.S. has hinted that Taiwan accepting U.S. pork containing the leanness-enhancing drug ractopamine is a precondition for further bilateral talks on trade liberalization and for Taiwan's inclusion in the TPP.

Asked whether he brought up the pork issue with President-elect Tsai Ing-wen during a meeting the previous day, Tong said it would have been inappropriate for him to raise specific trade policy questions with her, because she has not yet taken office.

The U.S. perspective is that Taiwan should use international standards as a reference when constructing policies, he repeated.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a U.N. food standards-setting body, has adopted maximum residue level (MRL) standards for ractopamine, a feed ingredient used to promote leanness in pork and beef.

While several countries have set standards for the maximum residue levels (MRLs) for ractopamine, China, Russia, and the European Union ban the use of meat containing ractopamine.

Taiwan currently prohibits imports of U.S. pork that contains traces of ractopamine.

During her election campaign, Tsai said she would "refer to the criteria of Japan and South Korea, which have similar dietary habits to us." Both countries allow imports of U.S. pork bearing traces of the drug.

Tong also took the opportunity to laud the economic relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan, citing the achievements in recent years, including the resumption of TIFA talks, the launch of the U.S.-Taiwan Global Cooperation and Training Framework to strengthen cooperation on disaster preparedness and health issues, and others.

Noting the two sides' deep trade relations, he said Taiwan is the ninth-largest trading partner of the U.S., while the U.S. is Taiwan's second-largest trading partner.

During his visit, Tong also called on lawmakers in the Legislature's economic affairs committee and met with President Ma Ying-jeou to discuss issues related to relations between the two countries.