US President Joe Biden, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and Chinese President Xi Jinping Photograph:( Agencies )
President Joe Biden has pressed ahead with improving ties with Taipei, including by revising convoluted rules that have blocked direct US dealings with Taiwan since Washington switched recognition to Beijing in 1979
The United States and Taiwan on Wednesday restarted trade talks after five years as Washington moves to boost its ties with the island despite China's objections.
Taiwan's chief trade negotiator John Deng said he told the US he hopes that they can free trade agreement, a deal which would be a strong show of US support in the face of relentless Chinese pressure against the island.
Both sides held the long-delayed talks on the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, virtually. These were stalled after former US President Barack Obama left office in 2016 and his successor Donald Trump's trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, focused his attention on China, the world's second-largest economy.
Wednesday's talks "focused on enhancing the longstanding trade and investment relationship between the United States and Taiwan", a statement released by the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.
Held virtually, they were co-led by top trade officials from Washington and Taipei.
Taiwan's cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng described the talks as "very fruitful" and "a very critical step for Taiwan’s foreign trade" at a press briefing in Taipei.
The two sides discussed a range of issues including supply chains, trade facilitation and digital trade, as well as environment and labour, he added.
Taipei also urged Washington to expand supplies of Covid-19 vaccines and medicines by sharing technical know-how or authorising manufacturing on a contract basis, said Taiwan's deputy trade representative Yang Jen-ni, who co-led the talks.
Both sides agreed to set up several working groups for further discussions on issues such as vaccine production, Taipei officials said.
A bipartisan group of 42 US senators wrote this week to US Trade Representative Katherine Tai asking her to "take steps to begin laying the groundwork for negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA), or other preliminary agreement, with Taiwan."
"Maintaining US economic influence in the region and reducing Taiwan's dependence on China is essential to ensuring that the region remains free and open," the letter said.
While Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization, many countries are wary of signing trade deals with the tech powerhouse fearing objections from China, though Taiwan does have free trade deals with Singapore and New Zealand.
Taiwan is a major producer of semiconductors, a shortage of which has roiled supply chains globally and affected auto makers in particular, concerning Washington, which has pressed Taiwan to speed up their production.
Last year, Taiwan's government lifted a ban on the import of pork containing a leanness-enhancing additive, ractopamine, removing a major stumbling block to a deal with Washington.
China has ramped up diplomatic, military, and economic pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of President Tsai Ing-wen, while Taipei has accused Beijing of hampering its efforts to secure enough vaccines.
Beijing considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan part of its territory which is to be seized one day, by force if necessary, and rages at any diplomatic attempts to recognise it as an independent nation.
President Joe Biden has pressed ahead with improving ties with Taipei, including by revising convoluted rules that have blocked direct US dealings with Taiwan since Washington switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.
The US government recently donated 2.5 million vaccine doses to Taiwan, a move that sparked rebuke from Beijing which urged Washington to refrain from "engaging in political manipulation and medalling in China's internal affairs."
(With inputs from agencies)