The administration of US President Joe Biden has continued its ongoing efforts to increase bilateral ties with Taiwan with the announcement about the return of US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) talks.
TIFA was signed in 1994 and had been a consistent forum for trade discussions between the two countries. Talks had previously encountered obstacles to progress due to barriers on Taiwan’s side, the most enduring of which had been related to a ban on US meat products containing ractopamine.
TIFA talks were once suspended in 2007 due to such barriers and did not resume until 2013. They stopped again in 2016 and did not occur at all during the administration of former US president Donald Trump. Interestingly, as of June 11, the US-Taiwan TIFA text is absent from the Office of the US Trade Representative’s (USTR) online list of agreements. The “China, Mongolia, and Taiwan” section only has the text for the US-Mongolia TIFA.
Better trade relations with Taiwan have received support from both sides of the US political spectrum. Despite bipartisan calls in Congress for the Trump administration to enter into trade agreement talks with Taiwan, then-USTR Robert Lighthizer did not move forward; instead, he focused on China.
Most recently, on June 7, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the possibility of a return to the defunct TIFA discussions. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken said: “I know we are engaged in conversations with Taiwan, or soon will be, on some kind of framework agreement, and those conversations should be starting.”
Then, on June 10, USTR Katherine Tai (戴琪) spoke with Minister Without Portfolio John Deng (鄧振中), who heads the Office of Trade Negotiations. During their call, they “committed to the convening of the 11th Trade and Investment Framework Agreement Council meeting … in the coming weeks.”
After four years of no progress through TIFA, the sudden announcement of the resumption of talks might be viewed as a relative surprise.