Washington, Sept. 10 (CNA) United States Senator Marco Rubio on Thursday called on the U.S. State Department to send a high-ranking official to visit Taiwan as a demonstration of its commitment to negotiating a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Rubio noted that Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen recently announced the lifting of import restrictions on U.S. beef and pork, which he said had been "the sole obstacle" to pursuing a bilateral FTA.
In light of Taiwan's move, Rubio said, he was calling on Pompeo to send Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment Keith Krach to visit Taiwan "as soon as possible to demonstrate U.S. determination to complete an FTA in a timely manner."
In strategic terms, Rubio said, maintaining U.S. economic influence and reducing Taiwan's dependence on trade with China is "essential to ensuring the Indo-Pacific remains free and open."
He also noted that Taiwan is America's 10th largest trade partner and has proven itself to be "a partner of the first order."
"Now is the time to begin negotiations," he said in the letter, which was copied to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
In the letter, Rubio also noted that Taiwan will be holding a memorial service for former President Lee Teng-hui later this month.
It "would be fitting to send a senior U.S. official" to attend the ceremony, Rubio said.
On Aug. 28, Tsai announced that Taiwan will set standards for residues of the livestock drug ractopamine in imported pork and will allow the import of U.S. beef from cattle over 30 months old, with effect from next January.
The decision was seen as intended to address longstanding U.S. objections that the restrictions were trade barriers and to pave the way for an eventual free trade agreement between the two countries.
A few days after Tsai's announcement, the U.S. State Department said it would hold a new annual economic dialogue with Taiwan at a senior level to strengthen bilateral economic ties.
On Thursday, the Taiwanese news outlet EToday reported that Krach is scheduled to visit Taiwan Sept. 17-19 for the first meetings under that initiative. The Taiwan government has declined to comment on the story.
Meanwhile, in remarks to a U.S. non-profit on Thursday, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu highlighted the two countries' close economic ties and called for the start of negotiations on a trade deal.
Speaking with the Atlanta Council on International Relations via video conferencing, Wu said trade between the U.S. and Taiwan exceeded US$80 billion last year, and he noted that contract chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) had recently committed to building a US$12 billion plant in the U.S. state of Arizona.
Now is the perfect time to strengthen the Taiwan-U.S. economic relationship, and beginning talks on a bilateral trade agreement is an excellent place to start, he said.
Taiwan's decision to lift restrictions on the import of U.S. pork and beef has drawn praise from many in the U.S. government, including Vice President Mike Pence, senators, and Cabinet officials.
However, the U.S. Trade Representative's Office has yet to issue a formal response, leading to some speculation that it is prioritizing progress on a multi-phase agreement with China.