161 U.S. House members call for trade agreement with Taiwan

Washington, Dec. 19 (CNA) One hundred and sixty-one members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, urging him to open negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan.

The letter, signed by more than one third of the 435 House members across party lines, said an agreement would create jobs in the U.S. and reaffirm the country's continuing commitment to Taiwan.

Noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act that sets the framework for U.S.-Taiwan relations, the House members put forth economic and ideological arguments for pursuing such a bilateral trade deal.

In economic terms, Taiwan has become the U.S.' 11th largest trading partner, the 8th largest export market for U.S. agricultural products, a major purchaser of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports, and the supplier of a significant percentage of the semiconductors used by U.S. manufacturers, the House representatives wrote.

Currently, the trade and investment relationship supports an estimated 373,000 jobs in the U.S., they said.

Meanwhile, Taiwan is an important "like-minded partner in the Indo-Pacific region" and has environmental and labor protections, the members of Congress said, citing Taiwan's adherence to International Labor Organization conventions.

Trade negotiations between Taiwan and U.S. have been stalled for years, largely as a result Taiwan's refusal to open its market fully to U.S. beef and pork exports, due to concerns about chemical additives.

Earlier this year, Leo Seewald, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Taipei, said the restrictions were "irritants" in the bilateral trade relationship. The issue has also been highlighted by the USTR in its annual reports on foreign trade barriers.

Since Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and U.S. President Donald Trump took office in 2016 and 2017, respectively, both countries have encountered a chill in relations with China, which is seen as a factor in the case for a trade agreement between Taiwan and the U.S.

Tsai has frequently expressed interest in such an agreement, most recently in a speech at AmCham in November, but has not directly addressed Taiwan's restrictions on American beef and pork.

In their letter, the members of Congress made only passing reference to the issue, calling on the USTR to address "existing market access issues."