On June 29th, representatives from the United States and Taiwan held trade talks for the first time in five years. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) disapproved, believing that the island nation is a Chinese province rather than a separate, independent nation.
The trade talk was conducted as part of the 11th Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council meeting under the auspices of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO) and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). Officials from both countries expressed a desire for a consistent and stronger engagement moving forward.
U.S. members discussed the “administration’s worker-centered trade policy, where workers have a seat at the table, strong labor standards are enforced, and prosperity is broadly shared. In addition, the U.S. officials discussed opportunities for the United States and Taiwan to work together on key trade and environmental issues such as combating wildlife trafficking and exploring trade tools to tackle the climate crisis,” according to a press release from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR).
Both sides agreed to work together as democratic partners supporting a worker-centered trade policy and to combat the use of forced labor in global supply chains. The two nations plan to form a Labor Working Group under TIFA. Taiwan’s chief trade negotiator, John Deng, expressed his country’s desire to sign a bilateral trade agreement.
“We expressed to the U.S. that Taiwan hopes to sign a trade agreement… We believe that if we continue to work hard, we will achieve our goal one day,” Deng said to reporters. The deal would be beneficial to the Taiwanese government because it could provide the cover necessary to engage in similar deals with other nations concerned about China’s response.
“After almost five years of no talks, it’s important to get back to the negotiating table to address market access barriers and new challenges… Substantial market barriers in investment and taxation, for example, need to be resolved in broader agreements,” Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the U.S.–Taiwan Business Council, said to The Epoch Times.
China had previously voiced its opposition to the meeting, with foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian stating in a press briefing that Beijing is against America engaging in “official interactions” with Taiwan in any form.
Ractopamine politics and trade deal
At present, Taiwan has trade deals with only two nations – Singapore and New Zealand. Taiwan has been trying to sign a bilateral trade deal with Washington since 1994, but nothing substantial has materialized.
The Trump administration had suspended trade talks with Taiwan, mostly because the island nation refused to lift a ban on pork products that contained ractopamine, an animal feed additive. At the June 29 meeting, the U.S. raised concerns about Taiwan’s market access barrier against American pork and beef.
Ractopamine is a drug that increases an animal’s weight and feeds efficiency. Pigs need to consume 20 percent less feed and water to reach weight targets. The additive is banned in China, the European Union, and Russia due to the possibility of adverse effects in high doses. However, use in cows and pigs is allowed in America.
In August last year, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen passed an executive order that allowed for the import of pork and beef raised with ractopamine, which triggered a public backlash due to food safety concerns. By December 2020, 16 counties and cities in Taiwan had passed ordinances banning meat containing ractopamine or requiring appropriate food labels. Taiwan’s executive branch ruled that the ordinances were illegal, and city councils have taken the issue to the Supreme Court.
Political parties are now using Tsai’s executive order against her and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) party has vowed to “fight the policy” at the executive and local level, according to SupChina. Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and thousands of protestors have also opposed the policy.
Opposition groups have scheduled a referendum in August to discuss whether the government should reimpose the ban on meat containing ractopamine. According to Christian Castro, a former director of the State Department’s Taiwan Policy Office, the referendum is a potential roadblock to trade talks between the two nations.
“The issue has derailed U.S.-Taiwan trade talks in the past under both Democratic and Republican administrations… President Tsai Ing-wen’s policy initiatives in this area are significant and welcome, but it’s hard to imagine major progress towards a larger bilateral trade agreement if this issue isn’t firmly resolved,” Castro said to Bloomberg.