The U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue launches on November 20. In these uncertain times, such discussions, in which friends explore ways to build mutually beneficial economic ties, are more than welcome.
In announcing the talks in August, David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said they would “explore the full spectrum of our economic relationship—semiconductors, healthcare, energy and beyond—with technology at the core,” While details about agenda remain sparce, the dialogue is expected to focus mainly on the digital economy and modern supply chains.
The dialogue comes at a time when U.S.-China tensions are their highest in decades, global supply chains have taken a beating because of the pandemic and American officials are increasingly intent on strengthening relationships with like-minded partners.
In June, for example, Undersecretary of State Keith Krach laid out a new U.S. initiative to forge an Economic Prosperity Network “comprised of like-minded countries, companies, institutions, and civil society that operate under a set of trust principles for areas of all economic collaboration.” Krach will be leading the dialogue meetings this week, along with C.C. Chen, Taiwan’s vice minister of economic affairs.
Given the growing importance of the digital economy and concerns about cyber security, their discussions will doubtless address U.S. efforts to build a clean telecommunication network (or 5G Clean Path). The goal here is to ensure that companies with questionable dedication to security are prevented from investing in U.S. telecommunication infrastructure. And certainly, the U.S. would like its friends and allies to follow suit.
This week’s dialogue is intended to expand the relationship beyond the now-suspended U.S.-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. While worthwhile, the idea of expanding discussions beyond the scope of that venue is nothing new.
Consider Taiwan’s connection between Northeast and Southeast Asia, as well as its link in the technology supply chain. Add to that the increasing belligerence of Beijing—and the unwillingness of our regional partners to take their economic relationship with Taiwan public—and the need for greater cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan is achingly clear. Without U.S. partnership and regional leadership, Taiwan is at risk of being left behind.
How real is that risk? Asian nations have signed two major multilateral trade deals in the last two years. The first, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (or CPTPP), has 11 members, representing 13.5 percent of the world’s economy. The other, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (or RCEP) has 15 members constituting 30 percent of the world’s economy. Neither agreement includes Taiwan.
To be fair, the U.S. has failed to pursue its own negotiations with Taiwan for a free trade agreement—even after Taiwan’s president announced this summer that they will remove restrictions on U.S. pork and beef imports.
A U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement is long overdue and should be a priority for 2021. And the deal should be about making trade freer and less about managing trade flows. But the need for greater U.S.-Taiwan economic cooperation goes beyond just negotiating a free trade agreement.
A regular, and therefore reliable, U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue is important. A one-off meeting will signal to the world that the U.S. isn’t as invested in building its partnerships, especially Taiwan, as it claims to be.
The U.S.-Taiwan economic dialogue should also be robust, and there are lessons to be shared between Washington and Taipei.
Looking for ways to foster innovation for our growing digital economies will be one major issue. U.S. and Taiwan officials actually began discussing digital issues as early as 2018. That’s a good thing, especially considering how much more important the digital economy has become to our daily lives just since the pandemic took hold.
The pandemic has also shown Taiwan to be a reliable partner in sharing health information and services. Other emerging issues, such as energy and the technology supply chain, are areas for cooperation as well. Major U.S. and Taiwan technology companies are already investing heavily in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship.
The first meeting of the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership should be the first step in building a robust U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Hopefully, the best is yet to come.
This article originally appeared in the Hill on 11/19/20