The US is sending a delegation of trade and economic officials to Taiwan next week, as the administration of Joe Biden seeks to bolster America’s commercial relationship with the island.
The office of the US trade representative announced on Wednesday that Terry McCartin, its top official responsible for trade with China, would lead a US delegation to Taiwan from January 14-17. The USTR said officials from other government agencies would also be present. Beijing is opposed to a trade initiative between Taipei and Washington.
Since Biden became president, US government officials have visited Taiwan on rare occasions. In early 2021, John Hennessey-Niland, Washington’s ambassador to Palau, travelled to the island and met with top officials on a trip that was condemned by Beijing.
When Nancy Pelosi travelled to Taiwan last summer, the then Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives’ visit sharply raised tensions with China, putting Biden in a difficult position.
The Biden administration has been looking to expand the US economic relationship with Taiwan, even though the island has not been included in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, America’s flagship trade initiative with the region.
In June Washington agreed to launch trade negotiations with Taiwan — which have included some virtual sessions as well as an in-person meeting in New York.
According to the USTR’s negotiating mandate, the talks will focus on a range of issues from agricultural and digital trade to the role of state-owned enterprises and labour, environmental and anti-corruption standards.
A US official said additional rounds of talks were likely to follow next week’s negotiations in Taiwan. The official added the US delegation would be travelling on commercial aircraft and was in contact with the state department about security arrangements as was standard protocol.
The USTR emphasised the talks would be held “in accordance” with the US’s “one China policy” as well as the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. The US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei. But the acceleration of the trade negotiations could upset an attempt by Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s president, to steady their relationship after they met at the G20 in Indonesia in November.
Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz