Friday, February 1, 2008

U.S. State of the Union, Congress and TUFTA

From our viewpoint, watching President Bush's final State of the Union address on Monday night, it seemed like the president had chosen a short list of priorities to focus on for his last year in the White House, one of which is to press for Congress to pass the United States' remaining outstanding negotated Free Trade Agreements. From the address (transcript here):

I thank the Congress for approving a good agreement with Peru. And now I ask you to approve agreements with Colombia and Panama and South Korea. (Applause.) Many products from these nations now enter America duty-free, yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field. They will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers. They will support good jobs for the finest workers in the world: those whose products say "Made in the USA." (Applause.)

These agreements also promote America's strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror, and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere. So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life. (Applause.)

- President George W. Bush, 2008 State of the Union Address

With free trade seemingly high on the White House's priority list, there may be better prospects ahead over the next year for the passage of these outstanding agreements. Hence the prospects for a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (TUFTA), which has not been hammered out yet between the two allies, seems brighter as well. Reenforcing this logic are statements made recently by Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus (D) of Montana and committee member Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona, as reported in this article by the publication from the Economic Division of TECRO, TaiwanNow:

from TaiwanNow, January 2008 issue
"View from Taipei - Baucus: ‘Launch U.S.-Taiwan FTA Talks’"

Congress Looks Ahead to What’s Next and Needed After Pending Trade Agreements

In late December, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced a concurrent resolution calling on the United States to both “increase trade opportunities” with Taiwan and launch negotiations on a bilateral free trade agreement. Co-sponsored by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the resolution, S Con Res 60, comes at a time when trade has become an easy scapegoat for U.S. economic problems on the campaign trail and as an uncertain outlook for the global economy may push the U.S. and other nations to consider protectionist measures.

During this period of economic uncertainty, it takes bold leadership to look beyond what is politically popular in the short-term to embrace good policy in the long-term. Taiwan is both grateful to Senators Baucus and Kyl for their bipartisan vision and for the longstanding support and friendship of the United States. Negotiating trade agreements with commercially significant economies will help safeguard U.S. economic competitiveness in the years to come, and the case for a U.S.-Taiwan FTA has never been stronger.

As the Senators highlight in their resolution, Taiwan and the United States are among each other’s most important trading partners. U.S.-Taiwan bilateral trade in 2006 totaled $61.2 billion, and Taiwan ranks as the 9th largest U.S. trading partner, the 11th largest export market for U.S. goods; the 6th largest market for U.S. agricultural products and the “3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th” largest buyer of U.S. corn, soybeans, beef and wheat, respectively. Not surprisingly, studies show that both the U.S. and Taiwanese economies would experience significant gains from a bilateral trade agreement. According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics, a U.S.-Taiwan FTA would increase U.S. goods and services exports to Taiwan by up to $6.6 billion annually.

Senators Baucus and Kyl have long been supporters of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA. Baucus introduced the U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Act of 2001, and he and Kyl, along with eight other senators, wrote to President Bush in 2003 urging him to launch talks on an agreement. There has also been similar support for a bilateral FTA in the House, with members introducing resolutions calling for the launch of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA in 2003, 2006 (signed by more than 66 representatives) and most recently H Con Res 137 in May 2007, a proposal co-sponsored by Congressional Taiwan Caucus co-chairs Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Bob Wexler (D-FL.) as well as Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN).

Which brings us back to 2008: We hope that members of Congress and the private sector will support an economically significant U.S.-Taiwan FTA and the resolutions introduced by Senators Baucus and Kyl and Reps. Berkley, Chabot, Rohrabacher, Wexler and Ramstad this year. The time for Taiwan is NOW.

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