[Last update: Sep. 4 2020]
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The U.S. and Taiwan will enter a new stage of trade talks following the Taiwanese government’s decision to expand American beef and pork exporters' access to the Taiwanese market — a move that has created heated debate in the country.
David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP), announced during a Washington think tank discussion on Monday (Aug. 31) that the U.S. will launch an Economic and Commercial Dialogue with Taiwan. This dialogue “will explore the full spectrum of our economic relationship – semiconductors, healthcare, energy, and beyond – with technology at the core,” he said.
The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) later said via a statement that the American delegation for the bilateral talks will be led by Keith Krach, the Department of State’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment. "We will be taking our economic relationship [with Taiwan] to the next level," said AIT, adding that the senior-level talks will likely forge new areas of economic cooperation and strengthen existing ones.
During his remarks on Monday, Stilwell also mentioned the declassification of documents pertaining to the U.S.’ Six Assurances for Taiwan. “It is important to review history like this because Beijing has a habit of distorting it,” Stilwell said, further criticizing that Beijing has posed a growing threat to peace and stability in the region.
“The U.S. maintains extensive, close, and friendly unofficial relations with Taipei, including commitments to assist Taiwan in its self-defense pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act,” said Stilwell. “Our relationship with Taiwan is not a subset of our bilateral relations with the PRC,” he added. “Our friendship and cooperation with Taiwan stands on its own.”
In a policy speech last Friday (Aug. 28), President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) declared that the government will allow the import of American pork containing ractopamine and American beef from cattle aged 30 months or older. “This decision is based on our national economic interests and consistent with our overall strategic goals for the future,” stressed Tsai.
The Tsai administration has long expressed its interest in signing a bilateral trade pact with the U.S. to remove trade barriers and pave the way for multilateral trade opportunities. Yet she first had to remove the obstacle that has for decades stood in the way of formal negotiations between the two countries — restrictions on American beef and pork.
Tsai’s decision to lift the restrictions quickly drew commendation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials. “The U.S. welcomes President Tsai Ing-Wen’s August 28 statement,” tweeted Pompeo, adding: “This move opens the door for even deeper economic and trade cooperation. Kudos to President Tsai for her leadership.”
At home, however, the policy change is being met with polarized public opinion. Whether to ease the restrictions on beef and pork from the U.S. is not merely a trade affair; it is a highly politicized issue.
Both the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the main opposition party, the Kuomintang (KMT), have attempted to resolve the issues related to American beef and pork imports in the past, but their efforts failed each time after meeting with strong protests by the opposition, whether DPP or KMT, which often mobilized local farmers to put up a resistance.
This time, the KMT has threatened to mobilize dozens of KMT-led local governments to boycott the new policy. On the other side, a number of DPP city mayors have said that while they understand the government’s decision was made to strengthen economic ties with the U.S., they remain committed to having their schools continue to serve Taiwanese beef and pork.
While visiting a pig farmer in eastern Taiwan last week, KMT Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) criticized the Tsai administration for turning a blind eye to the potential impact such policy change would have on domestic agriculture. The KMT has also expressed concern that American pork products containing ractopamine will have graver consequences on the health of Taiwanese, who consume much larger quantities of internal organs, where chemical residues are stored, than American consumers.