Taiwan confident it can sign ‘high standard’ US trade deal

TAIPEI – Taiwan is confident it can sign a “high standard” trade deal with the United States under a new framework, President Tsai Ing-wen told a visiting group of US lawmakers on Thursday.  

This latest visit brought the number of congressional visitors this year to the highest in at least a decade, as shows of support for the island’s leadership grows.

The delegation of two Democratic and six Republican members of the House of Representatives, led by Florida Democrat Stephanie Murphy, landed in Taipei on Wednesday as part of a bigger trip to the region, according to a statement by the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy.

Ms Tsai told the bipartisan US lawmaker delegation at a meeting in the presidential office that Taiwan would work with the United States to forge even closer trade and economic ties.  

“We have already announced that negotiations under the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade will begin soon. We are confident that through this initiative, we can sign a high-standard trade agreement and advance bilateral trade development,” she said.  

Washington and Taipei unveiled the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade in June, days after the Biden administration excluded the island from its Asia-focused economic plan designed to counter China’s growing influence.  

Taiwan has long pushed for a broad free trade deal with the United States, its most important international backer and foreign arms supplier even in the absence of formal diplomatic ties.  

Ms Murphy, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told Ms Tsai she supported such an agreement.  

“One of the most important things Congress can do right now is to deepen the economic relationship with Taiwan, and in particular, by pushing for a high-quality free trade agreement between the US and Taiwan,” she said. 

Ms Tsai also thanked the delegation for conveying strong congressional support for Taiwan just as China has been carrying out its drills, which have scaled back but continued.  

“Taiwan will not back down,” Ms Tsai said. “We will actively deepen our cooperation with democratic partners to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the region.”

Ms Murphy’s group is the latest in a string of senior officials from the United States to visit Taiwan since US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came early last month.

Her visit infuriated Beijing, which responded by launching war games near the island.  

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest visit.

This latest visit means 29 members of Congress have travelled to Taiwan so far this year, the most since at least 2013, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. 

Bipartisan support for Taiwan is high, as American politicians look to demonstrate their resolve in the face of what they see as China’s growing regional ambitions and fears that it might invade the island.

It is the fourth US congressional delegation to touch down in Taipei since last month, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the first sitting speaker to visit in a quarter century.

More than 40 lawmakers have visited Taiwan since US President Joe Biden took office. That compares with 35 during the previous four years under former president Donald Trump, when the pandemic interrupted travel.

“The baseline of congressional support for Taiwan is quite strong and always has been,” said Mr Drew Thompson, a former Defence Department official and visiting senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

“Because of China’s pressure on Taiwan, military coercion in particular as demonstrated from Pelosi’s visit, the result is that Taiwan has a much higher priority and is much more competitive on the agenda,” he said.

More than 150 US lawmakers have visited Taiwan over the past decade, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.  Republicans have comprised about 60 per cent of the total.

While the US views regular congressional visits as consistent with its “one China” policy of avoiding formal relations with Taipei, Beijing has accused American lawmakers of supporting  what it calls “separatists”. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG