The Bush administration may have its hands full in the Middle East, but that doesn't seem to have distracted it from the job of dealing with its trading partners in Asia. In fact, judging by the recent visits to the region of senior commerce department officials, it looks like issues such as market access and compliance with trade agreements are high on the U.S. priority list.
Taiwan has certainly felt a bit of the warmth, if not yet the heat. In late January came William Lash, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance, with a very clear message for the nation's leaders: take note of your WTO commitments, and focus particularly hard on problems related to intellectual property rights (IPR) violations.
This month his boss stopped over with pretty much the same message. AmCham members were fortunate to hear it first hand as Grant Aldonas, Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, spoke at the chamber's monthly luncheon on April 11.
The highest-ranking Bush administration official to visit Taiwan thus far, Aldonas started out diplomatically enough by congratulating Taiwan on its accession to the WTO, describing it at one point as a model of progress, "a prosperous society which enjoys international respect for its values of freedom and democracy, not just its economic achievements."
The talk then quickly turned to trade. Calling the enforcement of fair trade for American companies operating in Asia a "theme" of his two-week trip to the region, Aldonas explained that, "Nothing is more dispiriting to [U.S.] farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs than the sense they are not receiving the market access we bargained for in various trade agreements." To protect these people, Aldonas said, the U.S. must ensure that other trading partners live up to their trade agreements.
Pointing out that Taiwan's WTO membership brings it new status-- "with additional rights, come additional responsibilities"-- Aldonas went on to mark several areas where U.S.-Taiwan cooperation would be mutually beneficial, including the push to open markets for hi-tech products. But he also said that it was Taiwan's job to be "vigilant" in fulfilling its WTO obligations. To that end, the U.S. will be monitoring Taiwan to make sure laws and regulations are implemented on schedule, and that new laws are not introduced which will impair Taiwan's commitments, he said.
It wasn't all stick, though. Aldonas also reiterated the U.S. desire to maintain strong, if unofficial, relations with Taiwan, and commented positively on growing economic ties between Taiwan and China. He cited recent moves by Taiwan in relaxing restrictions on cross-strait investment and in allowing more items to be imported from China as encouraging. "We support moves such as this because we believe the cementing of economic ties will give both sides a stake in reducing political tensions," he said.
During his two-day trip, Aldonas no doubt disappointed senior government officials by saying that Taiwan was likely to find itself again on the Special 301, a list targeting countries that are deemed to be violating American intellectual property rights. He said that both Taiwan's IP laws and its enforcement of those laws were weak. Noting recent efforts by authorities to crack down on piracy, which have included raids on counterfeiters of everything from CDs to textbooks, Aldonas said that the U.S. was looking for "a strong and sustained effort."
During the trip, his first to Taiwan, Aldonas met with President Chen Shui-bian, Vice Premier Lin Hsin-I, Minister for Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu, Mainland Affairs Council Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, Minister of Health Lee Ming-liang, and U.S. and Taiwan business representatives.