Taiwan may buy US beef in exchange for trade talks

Taipei (The China Post/ANN) - The importation of U.S. beef is inevitable for the resumption of trade talks and restarting trade negotiations with the United States is crucial to breaking through the economic isolation Taiwan faces, President Ma Ying-jeou said yesterday.

The U.S. government's response on beef import into Taiwan is similar to its general concern about other things but the pressure comes from within, Ma said in a United Evening News interview.

The greatest trade advantage Taiwan has now is the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with mainland China, Ma said, adding that ECFA is also ¡°the only advantage we have against South Korea. But what do we have left were Korea to reach agreements with Japan and China on free trade agreements?¡±

He said that Taiwan already faces extreme stress from international competition to the point that pressure from the U.S. no longer makes any difference.

The Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) is a platform on which Taiwan could reach out to international organizations. And whether to import U.S. beef is precisely the obstacle hindering Taiwan-U.S. trade communications over the past five years, the president said.

¡°... The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government promised five years ago that Taiwan will not isolate itself from the world,¡± Ma said. The DPP government had even set certain time periods when its promises regarding the import of U.S. beef and whether to allow the usage of feed additives would come into effect, Ma stated.

Complete ECFA in two years

Mainland China is the world's second biggest economy and Taiwan's biggest trade partner. The nature of ECFA is similar to a free trade agreement (FTA), and the signing of the ECFA has increased Taiwan's economic outreach. The government hopes to complete all negotiations of ECFA within the upcoming two years and increase the benefits Taiwan sees in the trade relationship, Ma said.

For example, China could function as Taiwan's hinterland: a Japanese investor might want to cooperate with Taiwanese businesses to market in China, he said.

Economic Revolution Is Necessary

To avoid being marginalized internationally, Taiwan's market needs to be open and its economic structure needs reform, Ma said. He further said that although the economic transformation process could be painful, he would not hesitate to take the necessary measurements for long-term benefits.

Taiwan has been stuck in multilateral trade deals since its participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2002, but has survived. Now that South Korea has achieved an FTA with the U.S. after seven years of negotiations, Taiwan's economy is bound to be greatly impacted, Ma said.

¡°The merchandise influenced by the U.S.-Korea FTA tallies to about US$3 billion ¡ª about NT$100 billion. Although we obviously have counter measurements to the potential trade influences, the ultimate fact that Korea's investment environment is superior would cancel out a great portion of the advantages that came with ECFA,¡± the president said, adding that it is inevitable that structural reformation in the economy system needs to happen.

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