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Taiwan tells US it hopes to ‘gradually’ move towards a free trade deal

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

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

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

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

The top US diplomat in Taiwan, Brent Christensen, said at the opening session that 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 attempt to assert its sovereignty.

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Taiwan has long sought a free trade agreement with the United States, although any such agreement with Taiwan would likely irritate Beijing, which says the island is Chinese territory and has no right to state-to-state relations.

“I am confident that today’s talks will help put the economic relationship between the United States and Taiwan on the right track for further cooperation and progress in the future,” Christensen added.

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

The office of the US Trade Representative said during the talks that US officials emphasized the importance of the US-Taiwan trade and investment relationship and “expressed the desire for a stronger and more consistent commitment in the future.”

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Both parties also expressed support for joint work to improve supply chain security and resilience, he added.

Taiwan is a major semiconductor producer, the shortage of which has disrupted supply chains globally and affected automakers in particular.

While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with the tech powerhouse for fear of objections from China, although Taiwan has free trade agreements with Singapore and New Zealand.

Last year, the Taiwanese government lifted a ban on the import of pork that contains a thinness-enhancing additive, ractopamine, removing a major roadblock to a deal with Washington. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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