20131216 ANALYSIS: Beijing could hold key to Taiwan¡¦s TPP bid: analysts
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ANALYSIS: Beijing could hold key to Taiwan¡¦s TPP bid: analysts

By Shih Hsiu-chuan / Staff reporter

Taiwan¡¦s prospect for entry into the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) hinges on China, and the process is likely to be delayed because China itself is unlikely to join the trading bloc in the near future, US analysts said.

With the US and the 11 other members continuing to press ahead with a TPP deal, proposals were recently made to the US to include Taiwan in the negotiations to keep the nation from being marginalized.

US Senator Robert Menendez asked the US trade representative to incorporate Taiwan into the ongoing negotiations, and former vice president Vincent Siew (¿½¸Uªø) proposed that the two countries establish a team to facilitate Taiwan¡¦s access to the group.

Asked by the Taipei Times for comments on proposals in Washington earlier this month, a US trade official said remarks by Menendez and Siew are ¡§fine,¡¨ but ¡§better addressed to the Taiwanese government.¡¨

The US is not in a situation to ease the pathway for Taiwan, he said.

¡§It¡¦s not how it works for Japan, Canada, Mexico or Malaysia,¡¨ he added, referring to the process by which those countries were admitted to the TPP.

In each case of joining, the country must go through the democratic process to determine whether its people want to join, make its interests known to all TPP members, then begin consultations with each member, the official said.

Brookings Institution Global Economy and Development fellow Joshua Meltzer said China is always a factor in decisions, regardless of whether Taiwan is economically ready to join the TPP or not.

China¡¦s response to Taiwan¡¦s seeking TPP membership is a separate from whether Taiwan can meet the economic requirements to join the TPP, Meltzer said.

China¡¦s reaction will also have a bearing on the US, he said, although it is too early to conclude how the US will respond to Taiwan¡¦s request.

Meltzer added that Taiwan¡¦s focus should be on reforming its trading policies and practices for the short to medium-term to ensure they conform to rules being developed in preparation for TPP membership, Meltzer added.

Nicholas Hope, director of the Stanford Center for International Development and the China research program, said that China plays a decisive role in Taiwan¡¦s potential TPP membership.

¡§The US recognizes that Taiwan is inalienable from China and it hasn¡¦t supported the notion that Taiwan is an independent country,¡¨ Hope said recently at a Stanford University press discussion.

¡§The thing that will make Taiwan eligible [to join the TPP] is the Chinese government saying that Taiwan is an independent custom area and should be able to negotiate membership in the TPP,¡¨ he said.

A recent analysis written by Brookings senior fellow Richard Bush proposed the WTO model as a possibility, suggesting Taiwan and China join the TPP simultaneously, just as they did for WTO.

A shift in attitude toward the TPP was visible in June when Chinese President Xi Jinping (²ßªñ¥­) requested information on TPP negotiations and asked US President Barack Obama to ensure transparency in the process and to keep China informed when they met at Sunnylands in California.

However, the possibility of China joining the TPP in the near future may seem unrealistic to some US analysts, who said the US is cautions regarding China¡¦s presence in the negotiations, while China remains reluctant to join the TPP.

The Chinese government has expressed clear interest in joining, US Congressional TPP Caucus member Charles Boustany recently told a forum, who said his understanding was based on his discussions with Chinese officials.

US Department of State¡¦s senior official for APEC affairs Robert Wang said he has not heard of China asking to join the TPP.

Wang served as deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Beijing from January 2011 to August.

Former US Trade Secretary Norman Mineta said that whether China would become a TPP member in the future is a question that is ¡§hard to answer.¡¨

The obligation to comply with the rules being developed under the TPP, especially on protection of intellectual property rights, is a primary reason why China is hesitant to join the TPP, Mineta said.

In addition to China¡¦s reticence, Meltzer said the US would take a cautious approach to China¡¦s presence in the TPP negotiations.

Meltzer said the US is worried that China¡¦s participation will leave current negotiations unfinished due to China¡¦s ¡§low level of ambition¡¨ to pursue economic reform.

He said the US became hesitant after China signaled its interest in joining the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) after talks on the Information Technology Agreement collapsed.

If China wants to join the TPP and it can convince all TPP members, not just the US, that it is able to meet standards required under the deal, China will be very welcome, Meltzer said. ¡§There is nothing the US wants to do to stop China growing. It¡¦s a question of how China grows. Essentially, this is what the TPP is about.¡¨

The 12 TPP members intend to meet again in January after missing the US-imposed deadline for a deal after a four-day meeting in Singapore recently. Hope said in order to limit marginalization by China, Taiwan should take up the issue directly with China.

Meltzer said Taiwan would need to communicate with China that its desire to join the TPP is due to economic growth and not independence.

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